Rhode Island passes parity law; other state advocacy highlights

The law reinforces the requirement of health insurers to treat mental health and substance use disorders under the same terms and conditions as other illnesses.

On June 16, the governor of Rhode Island signed legislation bringing Rhode Island parity law in line with federal mental health parity law. The bill, SB 2801, will reinforce the requirement of health insurers to treat mental health and substance use disorders under the same terms and conditions that are provided for other illnesses and diseases. The law will also help with discharge planning for people with opioid disorders.

The Rhode Island Psychological Association (RIPA) was instrumental in working to remove nearly all excluded diagnoses from the original text of the bill, and in adding explicit references to non-qualitative treatment limitations (including rates) and qualitative treatment limitations. 

RIPA secured the deletion of the passage ("Mental illness" shall not include: (i) mental retardation, (ii) learning disorders, (iii) motor skills disorders, (iv) communication  disorders and (v) mental disorders classified as "V" codes) which would have precluded patients with these conditions from receiving benefits under the law. 

The law goes into effect Oct. 1, 2014, and the Rhode Island Psychological Association will continue to advocate for enforceable regulations based on the law. 

Other state advocacy highlights in 2013 and 2014 include: 

  • The Vermont Psychological Association was instrumental in finalizing the establishment of routine outpatient mental health services as primary care services and therefore required to have copay parity with other primary care services in the plans offered through the state’s health insurance exchange, VT Health Connect. 
  • North Carolina has worked cooperatively with the Autism Society of North Carolina on an insurance bill to mandate autism coverage in health insurance. The bill specifies that treatment must be ordered by a physician or psychologist, and that licensed professionals need to direct or provide the treatment. The bill has been referred to the North Carolina House Committee on Insurance. 
  • The Kentucky Psychological Association used an APA Practice Organization grant to defend against a bill for licensure revision from Applied Behavior Analysts that raised concern about encroachment into psychology’s scope of practice. The bill failed to pass the session. KPA also held its first Legislative Day in the state capital, where KPA members had an opportunity to meet one-on-one with their elected officials. KPA's new lobbying team provided training and support to KPA members for what will be an annual event. 
  • The West Virginia Psychological Association was approached by a state senator as a result of its legislative efforts to work with him on an illness prevention project in targeted public schools. Based on the pilot program outcomes, the project could be expanded to a statewide program. 
  • The New Jersey Psychological Association is tracking four bills currently in the New Jersey Senate. Continuing education for licensed practicing psychologists was passed by the Assembly (70-7-1) in June 2014 and is currently in the Senate Commerce Committee. Granting prescriptive authority to certain psychologists was reported out of Assembly Committee and will go to a full floor vote. A bill that would require that certain health benefits plans to provide coverage for behavioral health care services when determined medically necessary by a physician or psychologist was introduced in the Senate in June. A bill which would allow psychologists to incorporate with other licensed health care providers such as physicians, was passed by the Assembly (78-0-0) and is currently in the Senate Commerce Committee. 
  • The Virginia Psychological Association succeeded in extending the “any willing provider” law to a new type of health insurance for small businesses with two to 50 employees, which were previously exempt from all mandated benefits required of other health insurance plans. This will ensure that new plans for small business groups must accept on their panel any provider, including clinical psychologists, willing to meet the terms and conditions of the plan. The Virginia Psychological Association also had the State Bureau of Insurance clarify in writing that insurance plans in the state's federal health insurance exchange must comply with all state laws regarding patient freedom of choice, non-discrimination against classes of providers, prompt payment to providers, any willing provider, and that the provider is not required to participate in all of the carriers plans as a condition of participating in any one plan.

These are just some of the 2013 and 2014 state advocacy successes state psychological associations have shared with us. APA and the APA Practice Organization continue to support the efforts of state, territorial and provincial psychological associations (SPTAs) as they advocate for professional psychology in their respective health care systems.