April 20, 2024 5:11 am
Rhode Island legislators introduce legislation to enhance mental health, substance abuse coverage

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

In addition, the legislation would 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.

According to Rep. Teresa Tanzi, D-South Kingstown, there is a 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 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 growing mental health and substance abuse issues that have arisen since the COVID-19 pandemic, affecting people of all ages and demographics. She notes that addressing these issues promptly is crucial to avoid more severe and costly problems in the future.

The proposed bill seeks to ensure that individuals who suffer from chronic mental and substance use disorders receive adequate coverage from their insurance providers.

Representative Tanzi stated that there is currently a significant disparity in how insurers treat chronic illnesses compared to acute illnesses.

For instance, if someone were hospitalized for an overdose on opioids or heroin, they may not receive coverage for addiction treatment despite it being a critical medical need.

Similarly, someone with diabetes who needs ongoing care may receive it after being hospitalized from a diabetic coma but could struggle with obtaining addiction treatment even though it’s necessary.

Senator Ujifusa added that during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have witnessed an increase in mental health and substance abuse issues impacting people across all age groups and demographics.

She emphasized that addressing these concerns promptly was essential to prevent more severe problems down the road.

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