Connecticut’s House of Representatives recently approved a bill requiring insurers to cover mental health and substance abuse treatment at the same level as physical health. Taking a step further, House Bill 7125, known as An Act Concerning Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Benefits, also requires insurance companies to submit annual documentation to prove their compliance with the legislation.
Representative Sean Scanlon, (D-Guilford/Branford), chairman of the Insurance and Real Estate Committee, led the House in May to a unanimous vote.
The legislation is awaiting action in the Senate. This bill is the second iteration of an earlier version that didn’t pass the first time around.
Last year, along with Rep. Brenda Kupchick (R-Fairfield/Southport) and former 12th District Sen. Ted Kennedy, Jr., Scanlon proposed similar legislation based on a 2017 study by Millman Co., an actuarial consulting firm.
That study showed Connecticut was the worst state when it comes to mental health parity.
“If you have a physical health issue, you are treated in the state of Connecticut,” said Kupchick at a Capitol briefing at the time. “But if you have a mental health issue, you are running around in circles trying to get help and it’s just simply not right.”
“A disease of the brain should be treated no differently than a disease of the body,” Scanlon said. “But unfortunately, we found that was not the case.”
Part of the problem was 34 percent of the behavioral health visits were out-of-network when only three percent for physical health issues went uncovered. When patients receive treatment that is not in-network, they pay more money than they would for a regular doctor. For many, that cost is prohibitively expensive, which could mean they don’t receive any treatment at all.
Scanlon said this bill is important to him personally and he has no doubt the Senate will pass it this year. Members of his own family have suffered with substance abuse issues and they are a top priority.
“We need to ensure people can get access to the treatment they deserve,” he said. “It’s a big win for mental health advocates in the state and I’m really proud of it.”
For Scanlon, this legislation is not the end of his focus on mental health issues. Within the next year, he plans to propose another bill requiring insurance coverage on peer support. He said it’s a growing tool of people helping people—those who have had their own experiences help those going through it now.
Peer support is frequently cited in reducing relapses and rehospitalization as well as increasing outpatient services but it is often uncovered.
Scanlon added they will be proposing legislation to cover Medication-Assisted Treatment, or MAT, for those with substance abuse like opioids. The treatment incorporates FDA-approved medications combined with behavioral therapy that act like a one-two punch for addictions.
“We’re trying to get our teeth in this,” said Scanlon. “The goal is to end the stigma so there will be a big push for next year.”