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The Mental Health Parity Act: An Opportunity to Improve Mental Health and Substance Use Treatment in Georgia

Whether you struggle with an illness like depression or addiction yourself or a person in your life does, we are all witness to the life-changing impacts of mental illness and substance use disorders. However, accessing the necessary care and treatment to manage mental illness and substance use disorders is too difficult for some Georgia families. 

According to the Mental Health Association of Georgia, Georgia ranks 48th out of 50 states and D.C. for access to mental health care, resources, and insurance. Two in five Georgia children have trouble accessing the mental health treatment they need.

For years, Georgia’s mental health and substance use advocates have been working to improve access to services. While several policy wins have been achieved, the resulting changes have been modest and have not erased the biggest barriers to care. 

This year is different. State legislators and advocates have named 2022 the “year of mental health.” Leaders have committed to improving access to mental health and substance use services for Georgia families. 

The legislature has moved quickly on its commitment. On January 26th, House Speaker David Ralston introduced the Mental Health Parity Act. The Mental Health Parity Act is a landmark bill covering many aspects of mental health and substance use care. Topics covered in the bill range from how insurers must cover treatment to increasing the mental health and substance use provider workforce to creating mental health response teams around the state. 

One of the central parts of the bill is mental health parity. Mental health parity means treating mental health and substance use services the same as physical health services, especially in how insurance companies cover these benefits. Insurers sometimes put limits on the number and types of mental health and substance use treatments that are covered but do not put those same limits on physical health treatments (like getting a broken arm fixed). This unequal treatment means that Georgians who need mental health and substance use services may have a more difficult time getting treatment and pay more for their treatment. 

The Mental Health Parity Act would require insurers in Georgia to cover mental health and substance use just as they cover physical health. The bill would require private health insurers and Medicaid insurers to submit data showing that their approval and denial of mental health and substance use benefits is no more restrictive than benefits for physical care. The bill would require the state agencies that oversee private insurance and Medicaid to make it easier for consumers to file complaints if they believe their insurer is not covering mental health and substance use fairly. It will also create a full-time position dedicated to examining the data that insurers submit to make sure they are actually following the law. These measures will ensure the state has accurate data on how insurers cover these important benefits and allow the state to take action against insurers for violations. 

The bill also includes steps to increase the number of behavioral health and substance use providers throughout the state, especially in rural areas. One such step is student loan forgiveness options for students training as mental health and substance use providers. Two other changes would increase Medicaid payments for certain providers, and improve data collection so state leaders will better understand the true workforce shortages. 

Georgians for a Healthy Future applauds Speaker Ralston for his leadership on the Mental Health Parity Act. We support the strong provisions in the bill. The Mental Health Parity Act has been referred to the House Health and Human Services Committee, which Representative Sharon Cooper chairs. GHF will continue to provide updates as the bill moves through the legislature and look forward to working with our elected leaders to ensure all Georgia families can access the life-saving mental health and substance use treatment they need. 

Want to know more? Check out this fact sheet that summarizes key pieces of the Mental health Parity Act. Share it with your family, friends, and social media networks!

Do you have a story to share about difficulties accessing mental health or substance use treatment? Share your story here. Your story can power the changes that Georgians need!

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