New mental health law comes into force

Georgia’s new mental health law goes into effect on Friday, July 1.

Under new state law, Georgia health insurers must cover mental health treatment at the same level they cover physical illnesses

“The parity goes in immediately,” said Rep. Todd Jones, R-South Forsyth, of the new law’s July 1 start date.

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Jones, along with Congresswoman Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur, co-sponsored the omnibus bill in the state House of Representatives earlier this year.

“We hope that families in Georgia will have a greater opportunity to receive the treatment they are entitled to,” Oliver said of the change brought about by the new parity law.

“People who haven’t received adequate treatment: new funding is coming, new attention is coming,” Oliver said.

Oliver — along with several other mental health advocates — pointed out that Georgians can report suspected parity violations to the state insurance office. Reports from Georgians about their experiences would be key to ensuring the law is enforced, Oliver said.

Georgia’s new mental health law sends the message that “mental health matters and is just as important as your physical health,” said Kim Jones, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Georgia.

To explain mental health parity, Jones gave the example of a health insurer that offers out-of-network coverage for emergency medical services.

That insurer must also cover out-of-network emergency mental health and substance use treatment under the parity rule, Jones explained.

The Georgia Department of Insurance will soon hire a new mental health parity officer to help oversee the law, said Weston Burleson, director of communications for the insurance department.

Down the line, the department will collect and publish detailed information on how health insurers are handling mental health parity, Burleson added.

The Mental Health Act also creates a new MATCH (Multi-Agency Treatment for Children) team.

The team will begin meeting soon and take a hard look at the issue of Georgia children in state custody who do not have stable placements, Oliver said.

“The issue of emergency housing for these children needs a lot of attention,” Oliver said, noting that some of these children are staying in hotels or offices.

The new law also helps create collaborative mental health response programs, Oliver said, with funds provided by the fiscal year 2023 budget.

Collaborative response programs connect mental health professionals with law enforcement officials to help respond to mental health and substance use crises. Programs often provide follow-up services as well.

Later this year, the state will solicit proposals from communities that want to establish assisted living programs. The new mental health law provides for five such programs on a “pilot” basis.

In these programs, courts—working with the mental health community and law enforcement—can require people to receive treatment for mental health and substance use disorders.

Meanwhile, the Georgia Mental Health Commission is planning a new round of recommendations, and subcommittees are meeting monthly, Oliver said.

And the Mental Health Commission is closely monitoring progress with the provisions of the new law.

“There is a lot of work ahead to ensure that our oversight leads to a successful implementation,” Oliver said.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

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