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

Rhode Island lawmakers are taking a step to ensure that individuals have access to adequate mental and substance abuse treatment coverage through health insurance. The proposed legislation aims to bridge the gap between the coverage provided for chronic or pervasive mental and substance use disorders and acute or short-term treatment.

Under the new law, insurers would be required to cover chronic or pervasive mental and substance use disorders to the same extent as they would cover acute or short-term treatment. This would help ensure that individuals who need ongoing care receive it, regardless of their insurance coverage.

In addition, the bill prohibits insurers from requiring patients to obtain a “prior authorization” before seeking mental or substance abuse disorder treatment. Prior authorizations can often act as a barrier to people receiving the care they need, as they require patients to go through an administrative process before receiving treatment.

Behavioral health advocates have long pointed out this 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. Rep. Teresa Tanzi, D-South Kingstown, emphasizes that both cases are critical health issues that require proper care.

The legislation 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 issue.

Sen. Linda Ujifusa notes that addressing these issues promptly is crucial in light of the growing mental health and substance abuse problems that have arisen since the COVID-19 pandemic, affecting people of all ages and demographics. By providing adequate coverage for these conditions, we can help prevent more severe and costly problems in the future

By Riley Johnson

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