Behavioral health advocates in Georgia call for the state to build on the new parity law

(GA . recorder) – Advocates rallied behind enforcement of the federal behavioral health equity rules in Georgia are pushing for continued reforms in the state system — including more work on parity.

This year’s bipartisan Mental Health Act went into effect early this month and is still in effect, and advocacy groups are calling for additional changes they argue will help ensure that insurance companies do not discriminate against Georgians with behavioral health needs.

Peter Nunn, a board member of the Georgia chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said the adequacy of an insurance company’s network — or the availability of providers within the network — is the “beating heart” of behavioral health parity.

And when it comes to behavioral health, Nunn said the insurance company’s evidence can sound more robust than it actually is, arguing that there are “many bogus networks” in Georgia.

“We are not seeking anything drastic in championing the adequacy of our network. We are simply looking for insurance companies to provide the care they promised Georgians and for which they received tens of billions of dollars in premium payments each year,” Noun said.

To illustrate the lingering problem, state Senator Sally Harrell said she is struggling to get timely care for her family. The Atlanta Democrat said she was told it would take two to three months for an appointment and another two to three weeks for follow-up appointments.

“This is not a mental health equivalency, waiting two to three months for a child that you think is going through a crisis,” Harrell said. “So, what do you do? You do your best to keep this baby happy and healthy. But these problems don’t go away. These problems stay there and come back later in worse shape.”

Representative Mary Margaret Oliver, a Decatur Democrat who co-sponsored this year’s bill, said she is monitoring the state’s insurance commissioner’s new consumer complaints process. Today, the state agency presents This complaint process is on their website.

“The parent who can’t get an appointment for three months needs to file a complaint today,” Oliver said. “And that’s a message I want to carry forward every opportunity I get between now and the next bill.”

Advocacy groups held a press conference at the state Capitol on Monday to outline their updated “unified vision” for mental health reform and substance use care in Georgia. The coalition has been influential in helping to advance this year’s bill even when Far-right activists tried to derail Republican House Speaker David Ralston’s priority this year.

The groups are calling for funds to be earmarked for a marketing campaign that will educate consumers about equity rights and the state’s complaints process.

They are also pushing for an independent process that allows Medicaid enrollees to find and schedule appointments online with a behavioral health professional within the network. Failure to identify the provider on the proposed website within the time and distance requirements of the managed care institution will result in notification first to the organization and later to the state if not resolved.

Advocates for these enhanced equity measures are pushing even as they work to mobilize support for new initiatives around workforce shortages, equity, early identification, and prevention that focus on children.

“Let’s keep the kids out of prison. Let’s get them off the streets. And let’s keep them safe,” said Abdul Henderson, CEO of Mental Health America in Georgia.

Another group to watch in the off-season is the reform-oriented Behavioral Health Committee, which continues to meet regularly and is expected to issue a new set of recommendations before next year’s session.

“It’s not just the year, it’s a decade of mental health reform, and we’re not done,” said Kevin Tanner, the former state representative who leads the committee, shortly after the 2022 legislative session ended.

Upon signing the mental health bill in April, Ralston said the action was “not the end, just the end of the beginning.”

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