Georgia lawmakers went into the current legislative session promising to make mental health reform a priority. On Wednesday, March 30, they made good on that promise when the state Senate unanimously approved HB 1013, an 80-page bill that aims to improve services for Georgians who have mental health and addiction problems.
Here are some highlights of HB 1013:
Mental health parity
The bill establishes parity between mental and physical health when it comes to health insurance coverage. However, there are exceptions. Health plans that don’t already offer mental health reimbursement are not required to begin doing so. The bill also requires insurance regulators to monitor compliance since insurers historically haven’t always obeyed the rules.
Co-responder approaches to crises
HB 1013 embraces co-responder models that pair law enforcement with trained mental health clinicians to respond to 911 calls associated with a mental health crisis.
The final version of the bill also contains provisions for collaboration between courts, medical providers and law enforcement to work with people in crisis. I see this as a real opportunity to provide tailored help to individuals.
The bill would make it easier for an officer or worker to take someone into care without their consent if there is a reasonable expectation that “significant psychiatric deterioration will occur in the near future.” The intent is to get people into treatment as soon as possible, not when crisis is imminent. Under current state law, mentally ill people must show an imminent risk of harm to themselves or others before they can be committed for treatment.
My biggest concern with HB 1013 is that insurers may decide to stop offering reimbursement for mental health services to avoid the mental health parity requirements. My hope is that insurers will consider the demand for these services and continue to offer coverage. As long as insureds do not experience reduced access to mental health services, this legislation is a big win for mental health in the state of Georgia.
On a personal note, I also want to congratulate the Georgia legislature on a job well done. This legislation exists because of bipartisan efforts that focused on the welfare of Georgia citizens and not on party affiliation. I look forward to seeing what the legislature can accomplish in the future to help Georgia residents live healthy, happy, and productive lives.