Legislators Announce Bipartisan Mental Health, Substance Abuse Treatment Bill

March 5, 2019

A bipartisan group of legislators led by Rep. Sean Scanlon (D-Guilford), Rep. Brenda Kupchick (R-Fairfield), Sen. Matt Lesser (D-Middletown) and Sen. Kevin Kelly (R-Stratford) and joined by former congressman and nationally renowned mental health advocate Patrick J. Kennedy on Tuesday announced major legislation on mental health and substance use.

The legislation, House Bill 7125, requires insurance companies to submit annual reports concerning parity for mental health and substance use disorder, requires health insurance coverage for prescription drugs prescribed for the treatment of substance use disorders and requires health insurance coverage for substance abuse treatment regardless of whether such services were provided pursuant to a court order. If passed, it would be one of the strongest mental health parity laws in the nation.

“For too long, those with mental illness and substance use disorders have struggled to access services because insurance companies do not recognize that their conditions are just as much of a disease as cancer and diabetes,” said Rep. Scanlon, co-chair of the Insurance and Real Estate Committee and the bill’s lead sponsor. “By passing this legislation we can finally end this discrimination and ensure that mental health and substance use disorders are treated equally by insurers.”

“With the passage of HB 7125, Connecticut can become a national leader in ending insurer discrimination against those with mental health and substance use disorders,” said Patrick J. Kennedy, a former Rhode Island congressman and founder of the Kennedy Forum.

“More than 10 years after I led passage of the federal Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, states must finally hold health plans accountable and demand full disclosure of treatment limitations and medical necessity criteria to force plans to prove equal coverage of mental health and addiction treatment services,” said Kennedy, who is also co-founder of One Mind; commissioner of the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis.

“HB 7125 will save lives by expanding access to care. I thank Rep. Sean Scanlon for his leadership on this vital legislation,” Kennedy said.

“I’m thrilled to work with these legislators and a true national advocate like Patrick Kennedy,” said Sen. Lesser, co-chair of the Insurance and Real Estate Committee. “I know all too well how mental health and substance abuse touches almost every family in Connecticut. Covering medication assisted treatment will have a huge benefit for families battling addiction. And we need to do everything we can to provide equal coverage for people with mental health and substance abuse needs and end the stigma of these conditions once and for all.”

“Connecticut needs to do more to remove barriers to care for those with addiction and mental health issues,” said Sen. Kevin C. Kelly (R-Stratford), the committee’s ranking member. “I am glad to see strong bipartisan support to address these issues and make treatment for mental health and substance abuse disorders more accessible. Last year, the Connecticut Senate passed an extremely strong bipartisan mental health parity law, but unfortunately it did not make it through both chambers. This year, I hope to see our efforts put a bill on the governor’s desk that achieves the parity all people deserve.”

“The unfortunate truth is that if someone has a substantial or serious physical health issue, such as a heart ailment they are treated without delay in the state of Connecticut, but if that same individual has a mental health issue, they are left running around in a maze of bureaucracies trying to get the help they need,” Rep. Brenda Kupchick (R, 132nd District, Fairfield/Southport) said. “That is just not acceptable. Connecticut needs to do a better job. Let’s work together to finally make this bill the new reality.”

“The current opioid epidemic is the worst drug crisis in US history. In the state of Connecticut, over 1,000 lives are now lost every year due to accidental overdose. I fully support HB7125 which introduces critical legislation that will help identify barriers to much-needed treatment for patients suffering from the disease of addiction,” Dita Bhargava, Founder, Combat Addiction Network (CAN) and Ambassador for Shatterproof.

“Adding to the pain and challenge of finding mental health or substance use treatment, families are forced to make impossible decisions, such as removing young adults off of a parent’s private insurance to benefit from state-funded services, thereby shifting and elevating the costs for us all. Others are choosing to not seek treatment, or they are deciding between paying their bills or paying for services out of pocket. None of this makes sense and all of this is costing us – in lives and in dollars – way more than is necessary,” said Luis Perez, President and CEO of Mental Health Connecticut, and Board Member of Mental Health America.

“When my daughter injured her knee in high school and required surgery our insurer provided good coverage for her doctor appointments and physical therapy. When she later required mental health counseling we were often required to pay hundreds of dollars at the time of each session with a psychiatrist or therapist and were later reimbursed about 25 percent for the mental health appointments by our insurance company,” Steve Lichtman, resident of Easton, CT.