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

As a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Rhode Island lawmakers have proposed new legislation to address the growing mental health and substance abuse issues that have arisen. 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.

Rep. Teresa Tanzi, D-South Kingstown, emphasizes the disparity in how insurers treat chronic health issues compared to acute health issues. For example, someone waking up 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 emphasizes that both cases are critical health issues that require proper care.

The proposed law would also prohibit insurers from requiring patients to obtain a “prior authorization” before seeking mental or substance abuse disorder treatment. This administrative process is often cited by behavioral health advocates as a barrier to people receiving the care they need.

The legislation, sponsored by Tanzi and Sen. Linda Ujifusa, D-Portsmouth, has the support of the Mental Health Association of Rhode Island and other behavioral health care providers. Similar laws have been passed in four other states. Sen. Ujifusa highlights the importance of addressing these issues promptly to avoid more severe and costly problems in the future.

In summary, two Rhode Island lawmakers have introduced new legislation aimed at addressing inadequate mental and substance abuse treatment coverage by health insurance. The bill requires insurers to cover chronic or pervasive mental and substance use disorders to the same extent as they would cover acute or short-term treatment and prohibits them from requiring patients to obtain prior authorization before seeking mental or substance abuse disorder treatment. The legislation has received support from behavioral health advocates and similar laws have been passed in four other states.

By Aiden Johnson

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