The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the critical need for mental health and substance abuse treatment to the forefront of public consciousness. In response, two Rhode Island lawmakers have proposed new legislation aimed at addressing the issue of inadequate coverage by health insurance.

The bill aims to require insurers to cover chronic or pervasive mental and substance use disorders to the same extent that they would cover acute or short-term treatment. This would eliminate a common administrative barrier: requiring patients to obtain “prior authorization” before seeking treatment for a mental or addiction disorder.

Behavioral health advocates frequently cite this process as a significant obstacle to people getting the care they need. According to Rep. Teresa Tanza, D-South Kingston, there is a difference in how insurers treat chronic health problems compared to acute health problems. For instance, someone who wakes up from a diabetic coma receives ongoing diabetes care, while someone hospitalized for an overdose may be denied coverage for substance abuse treatment. Tanzi emphasizes that both cases are critical health issues that require proper care.

Senator Linda Ujifusa, D-Portsmouth, 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 resolving these issues quickly is key to avoiding more serious and expensive problems in the future. The legislation has support from the Rhode Island Mental Health Association and other behavioral health providers. Similar laws have been passed in four other states.

By Samantha Johnson

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