Senate Committee Approves Bill To Expand Insurance Coverage Of Mental Illness For Public Employees

TRENTON – The state Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee approved a bill on Monday which would require public health insurance providers to cover the treatment of mental and nervous disorders, alcoholism and substance abuse under the same terms and conditions as other medical illnesses.

“Long ago, we established that mental health disorders and drug and alcohol dependencies should be treated as diseases, unfortunately some health insurers in the state still do not treat these illnesses with the same regard as non-mental health disorders, and often block and limit access to treatment that would manage or cure them,” said state Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex.) “By requiring that the state’s two largest health plans for public employees get with the times and treat all illnesses the same whether of the mind or the body, we can ensure that mental health and substance abuse treatment is available to many of those who need it.”

The bill, S-1253, would expand mandated health insurance coverage for the treatment of mental and nervous disorders and substance and alcohol abuse disorders under the State Health Benefits Plan (SHBP) and the School Employee Health Benefits Program (SEHBP).

The bill would require that insurance providers participating in the public health insurance plans provide coverage for all mental and nervous disorders included in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, regardless of whether or not the disease is biologically-based or not, under the same terms and conditions as provided for any other illness under the health insurance policy. Current law only requires that a health insurance contract provide coverage for biologically-based mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, as opposed to non-biologically-based mental illnesses, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

The bill would also require parity when it comes to the treatment of alcoholism and other substance-use disorders under the same terms and conditions applied to other diseases or illnesses.  that the “stigma about mental illness treatment in this country,” serves as contributing factor in gun violence.

The bill was approved with a vote of 11-0-2. It now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

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