Rhode Island legislators introduce legislation to enhance mental health, substance abuse coverage

Rhode Island lawmakers are proposing new legislation to tackle the issue of inadequate mental and substance abuse treatment coverage by health insurance. The legislation aims to ensure that insurers cover chronic or pervasive mental and substance use disorders to the same extent as they would cover acute or short-term treatment.

One of the main concerns raised by behavioral health advocates is the requirement for patients to obtain a “prior authorization” before seeking treatment for mental or substance abuse disorders. This administrative process can be a significant barrier, preventing people from receiving the care they need. Under the proposed law, this requirement would be abolished, making it easier for individuals to seek help when needed.

Rep. Teresa Tanzi, D-South Kingstown, has emphasized the disparity in how insurers treat chronic health issues compared to acute health issues. For example, someone recovering from a diabetic coma would receive continued care for diabetes, while someone hospitalized for an overdose might be denied coverage for substance dependency treatment. Tanzi believes that both cases are critical health issues that require proper care.

The legislation, sponsored by Tanzi and Sen. Linda Ujifusa, D-Portsmouth, has received support from the Mental Health Association of Rhode Island and other behavioral health care providers. Similar laws have been passed in four other states, demonstrating its effectiveness in addressing this critical issue.

Sen. Ujifusa notes that since the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a growing concern about mental health and substance abuse issues affecting people of all ages and demographics. She stresses that addressing these issues promptly is essential to prevent more severe and costly problems in the future.

In conclusion, Rhode Island lawmakers are taking steps to ensure that individuals have access to adequate mental and substance abuse treatment coverage through new legislation aimed at requiring insurers to cover chronic or pervasive disorders to the same extent as acute or short-term treatment while abolishing prior authorization requirements for patients seeking such treatments.

By Sophia Gonzalez

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