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

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Rhode Island lawmakers are taking a stand to address the issue of inadequate mental and substance abuse treatment coverage by health insurance. Two lawmakers, Rep. Teresa Tanzi and Sen. Linda Ujifusa, have proposed new legislation that 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 proposed law 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.

Rep. Tanzi emphasizes that 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 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.

Tanzi and Ujifusa’s proposal is an important step towards ensuring that everyone has access to necessary mental and substance abuse treatment coverage regardless of their insurance plan.

By Samantha Johnson

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