Assembly Panel Advances Johnson, Vainieri Huttle, Diegnan & Gusciora Mental Health & Substance Abuse Parity Law

Measure Would Ensure Care for Variety of Mental Illnesses & Addictions

An Assembly panel on Thursday approved legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Gordon Johnson, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Patrick J. Diegnan, Jr. and Reed Gusciora requiring health insurers to provide the same levels of coverage for a broad array of mental illnesses and substance abuse addictions as they do for treating other diseases.

"Thousands of New Jersey families are impacted by mental illness," said Johnson (D-Bergen). "It is time that health insurers provide the same level of coverage for individuals with mental illness as patients undergoing any other legitimate medical procedure."

The measure (A-1665) would expand mental health insurance coverage by requiring the State Health Benefits Program (SHBP) and the School Employees' Health Benefits Program (SEHBP) to provide coverage for non-biologically based mental health disorders included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

New Jersey enacted a law requiring health insurers to cover biologically-based mental health in 1999.

"Mental illness and substance abuse can affect the entire spectrum of a person's life, from their interpersonal relationships, to their ability to obtain employment, and even their disposition towards violence," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "With so much at stake, we must provide a clear path to treatment that will enable those suffering to live happier, more productive lives."

The bill would also require the SHBP and the SEHBP to broaden coverage for substance abuse treatment to include inpatient programs, outpatient care, detoxification and treatment by a physician or other licensed healthcare professional.

"We must require insurers to provide coverage to individuals suffering from drug addiction and alcoholism" said Diegnan (D-Middlesex). "The time to act is now. It is inexcusable to delay coverage while putting at risk the lives of thousands of New Jerseyans who are suffering from addiction."

"For individuals suffering from mental illness, access to the proper medical care is a necessity and should not be treated as a luxury," said Gusciora (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). "Requiring insurers to recognize addiction as a mental illness will hopefully encourage more people to get the help they need and take the first steps on the road to recovery."

The measure was approved by the Assembly Appropriations Committee, after having been previously approved by the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee, and now awaits consideration by the full Assembly.
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