With New Law, 2022 is the Year for Mental Health in Georgia
By Eve H. Byrd, Director, Carter Center Mental Health Program
During the 2022 state legislative session, the Georgia General Assembly voted unanimously to pass the Mental Health Parity Act, ensuring that the state will enforce parity in insurance coverage for behavioral health care for the first time.
The Mental Health Parity Act (Georgia General Assembly – HB 1013 (ga.gov)) will help Georgians access affordable mental health and substance use disorder treatment for themselves and their children by ensuring that public and private health insurance plans cover behavioral health equitably with physical health.
Enforcing parity will also, in time, address mental health workforce shortages by ensuring equity in reimbursement of providers by insurers.
The first section of the Mental Health Parity Act, sponsored by Speaker of the House David Ralston, Rep. Todd Jones, Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, and Sen. Brian Strickland, will require:
- Medicaid care management organizations and private insurance plans that are regulated by the state to follow the federal parity law;
- The State Department of Community Health and Department of Insurance to regularly monitor parity compliance and take action when violations occur (the state budget includes funding for a dedicated staff person to enforce parity);
- Making it easier for families to file parity complaints with the state;
- Making parity compliance data transparent and publicly available;
- Ensuring medical necessity determinations are based on generally accepted standards of care.
What does all of this mean for Georgians and their families?
It means insurance companies can no longer deny coverage for medically necessary behavioral health treatment, and families will no longer have to pay out of pocket for needed care due to arbitrary coverage limits and denials. In time, it will mean more behavioral health specialists will join the workforce because they will be remunerated adequately, and hopefully more providers will join insurance panels and accept both private and public insurance. It means future relief from long wait times and lack of behavioral health care providers in many areas of our state. And it means more children and adults may receive early intervention that can prevent a crisis down the road.
The Carter Center Mental Health Program has for the past two years led the Georgia Parity Collaborative, a group of over 40 statewide and national organizations working to advance parity. We were proud to see our broad coalition, including many partners beyond the typical mental health advocacy community, working together to successfully raise awareness about the issue across the state while educating policymakers and members of the media.
We look forward to the Collaborative continuing its important work as we monitor implementation of the parity provisions of the Mental Health Parity Act with state agencies and evaluate the impact of this significant policy change.
In addition to the passage of this momentous legislation, during the Year of Mental Health, the state legislature passed and sent to the governor for signature these important bills:
House Bill 752, Rep. Sharon Cooper — Georgia General Assembly – HB 752 (ga.gov)
- Creates Psychiatric Advanced Directives to allow someone to express his or her mental health care treatment preferences in advance of a crisis.
Senate Bill 341, Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick — Georgia General Assembly – SB 341 (ga.gov)
- Ensures prior authorization from an insurer to cover a medication for a chronic condition would last for a year.
Senate Bill 403, Sen. Ben Watson — Georgia General Assembly – SB 403 (ga.gov)
- Provides for co-responder teams composed of peace officers and behavioral health professionals; and to provide for training of co-responder team members.
Senate Bill 566, Sen. Dean Burke — Georgia General Assembly – SB 566 (ga.gov)
- Adds mental health/substance use to existing rules preventing surprise billing.
Between now and the next legislative session in 2023, we have an important opportunity to build on this momentum and continue the progress. The Mental Health Parity Act was based on the first-year recommendations from the state’s Behavioral Health Reform and Innovation Commission. Advocates can stay engaged in the work of that commission and ensure that needed reform and investment in the behavioral health system continues.
Also, Georgians can contact their state legislators and the governor to thank them for ensuring that behavioral health care will be covered equitably by insurance, making access to behavioral health care easier, more efficient, and more cost-effective – while saving lives.