The Carter Center says now is the time to look closely at how insurance companies cover mental health treatment.
The 2008 Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act requires insurers to cover illnesses of the brain in the same way as illnesses of the body, but it’s not enforced in Georgia, Helen Robinson with The Carter Center said.
Treatment for depression should be as accessible as treatment for cancer, she said.
“The reason to talk about this right now is that due to the current crisis, Georgians are experiencing increased anxiety and trauma.”
Mental health parity describes the equal treatment of mental health conditions and substance use disorders in insurance plans, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. When a plan has parity, it means that if you are provided unlimited doctor visits for a chronic condition like diabetes then they must offer unlimited visits for a mental health condition such as depression or schizophrenia.
However, parity doesn't mean that you will get good mental health coverage.
Ten years after the federal law was passed, Georgia received a failing grade for behavioral health parity, according to a 2018 report produced in collaboration with the Morehouse School of Medicine, The Kennedy Forum and Well Being Trust.
Carter Center Mental Health Program Director Dr. Eve Byrd said Georgians are four times more likely to have to go out of network for an office visit for behavioral health services, compared to primary care.
“By simply talking to friends and colleagues, you will hear how common it is for people to struggle to get a family member the help they need covered by their insurance plan, from an in-network provider within a reasonable distance,” Byrd said.
Also, mental health services currently funded by the state are about to be cut due to the budget crisis.
- DFCS Could Close Over 50 Offices As Part Of State-Mandated Budget Cuts
- Georgia Could Raise $600 Million In Revenue By Raising Cigarette Tax, Analysts Say
- Budget Cuts Could Mean Fewer Teachers, Food Inspectors And Less Money To Clean Up Toxic Waste
The governor told state agencies he projects an 11% drop – as opposed to the 14% drop previously estimated – in state tax collections in the upcoming fiscal year, which means lawmakers must plan to spend $2.6 billion less in the 2021 fiscal year beginning July 1.
Lawmakers return to the Capitol Monday to work toward passing the budget before the month is over.
By cutting mental health services from state agencies’ budgets, the costs will shift to other agencies that deal with incarcerations, homelessness and unemployment, Byrd said.
Neil Campbell, the executive director of the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse, said Georgia has never implemented parity in any meaningful way.
“We have not expanded Medicaid and our insurance commissioners have not been ensuring compliance with the (Parity) Act, either,” Campbell said.
The Carter Center Mental Health Program is working with partners to identify steps that Georgia policymakers can take to implement and enforce parity in the state.