On Thursday, September 3, legislators in California passed and sent to the Governor for his signature a bill, fiercely opposed by the private insurance industry, that could force improved coverage for many who suffer from psychiatric illnesses, including substance abuse.
Health insurance is largely regulated on a state-by-state basis in the United States. Many states have “mental parity laws,” instructing insurers to treat mental illnesses on a par with physical illnesses. Have much they sting, for the insurers, depends on the specifics of each bill and on how vigorously they are enforced.
California has actually had a mental parity law on the books since 1999. But activists have complained throughout the intervening two decades that it doesn’t have proper enforcement mechanisms so that insurers continue to find it easy to determine that psychiatric treatments are outside the realm of medical necessity. Psychiatric patients are said to be four times more likely to go outside of their insurers’ networks for care than are patients with physical conditions.
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As of this writing, the Governor of California, Gavin Newsom, is expected to sign the bill into law. How well it would work, and what undesired side effects it may have, remain to be seen. They will be noted, so to speak, on the patient’s chart.