ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed legislation Monday aimed at strengthening the state’s dismal mental health care system by pressuring private insurers to improve coverage for mental illness .
HB 1013 — championed by Republican House Speaker David Ralston — also requires publicly funded insurance programs to spend more on patient care and authorizes loan forgiveness for people studying to become mental health professionals. It is expected to cost tens of millions of dollars in additional government funding each year.
“Today we are fulfilling the vision of Speaker Ralston and so many others who came together in this effort to bring hope to the many families across Georgia who have a loved one who is suffering from some form of mental health or behavioral problem.” , Kemp said in the state Capitol.
Kemp was supported by Ralston, mental health advocates and lawmakers from both parties.
“Georgia is making a transformative commitment to improving mental health care,” Ralston said.
He cited HB 1013 as well as nearly $200 million in additional funding for the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities in the 2023 budget.
Georgia has seen a rise in drug abuse and suicides in the country and consistently ranks bottom among US states for access to mental health care.
A key component of the new law aims to ensure private insurers meet longstanding federal requirements that they provide the same level of benefits for mental health disorders as they do for physical illnesses. Under the new law, insurers must submit data to the state on compliance with the parity requirement.
Another component of the law allows law enforcement officers to take someone they believe is in need of psychiatric treatment to an emergency facility for evaluation.
The bill met vocal opposition after it sailed through the House of Representatives. Critics expressed concerns that this would create a way to take guns away from people diagnosed with a mental illness and increase insurance premiums for benefits they did not want.
The Senate removed language requiring health insurers to cover treatment for mental illness or substance abuse disorders. It also required police officers to get a doctor’s OK to take someone for an examination.
The bill went into final passage with a 54-0 vote in the Senate and 166-0 in the House of Representatives.
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