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Health insurance coverage for mental and substance abuse treatment is a critical issue that has been addressed by two Rhode Island lawmakers through proposed legislation. The bill aims to ensure that chronic or pervasive mental and substance use disorders are covered to the same extent as acute or short-term treatment.

In addition, the bill would prohibit insurers from requiring patients to obtain a “prior authorization” before seeking mental or substance abuse disorder treatment, which is often cited as a barrier by behavioral health advocates. This administrative process can prevent people from receiving the care they need.

Rep. Teresa Tanzi, D-South Kingstown, emphasized that there is a disparity in how insurers treat chronic health issues compared to acute health issues. For example, someone who wakes up from a diabetic coma receives continued care for diabetes, while someone hospitalized for an overdose might be denied coverage for substance dependency treatment. Tanzi emphasizes that both cases are critical health issues that require proper care.

The legislation has the support of the Mental Health Association of Rhode Island and other behavioral health care providers and has already been passed in four other states. Sen. Linda Ujifusa, D-Portsmouth, highlighted the growing mental health and substance abuse issues that have arisen since the COVID-19 pandemic, affecting people of all ages and demographics. She noted that addressing these issues promptly is crucial to avoid more severe and costly problems in the future.

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