ATLANTA — Georgia’s new Mental Health Parity Act takes effect Friday, July 1.
Under new state law, Georgia health insurers must cover mental health care at the same level they cover physical ailments
“Parity is effective immediately,” Rep. Todd Jones, R-South Forsyth, said of the July 1 start date for the new law.
Jones, along with Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur, co-sponsored the omnibus bill in the House of Representatives earlier this year.
“Georgian families will hopefully be more likely to receive the treatment they are entitled to,” Oliver said of the change introduced 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 department.
Georgians’ reports of 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 parity in mental health, Jones gave the example of a health insurer that provides out-of-network coverage for urgent medical services.
That insurer must also cover urgent out-of-network mental health and addiction 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.
Ultimately, the department will collect and publish detailed information about health insurers’ performance on mental health parity, Burleson added.
The Mental Health Act also sets up a new MATCH (Multi-Agency Treatment for Children) team.
The team will soon begin meeting and will carefully consider the issue of state-detained Georgian children who do not have a stable placement, Oliver said.
“The issue of emergency placement for these children requires a lot of attention,” Oliver said, noting that some of these children are staying in hotels or offices.
The new law also helps establish mental health co-responsor programs, Oliver said, with funds provided by the fiscal year 2023 budget.
Co-responsor programs pair mental health professionals with law enforcement officers to help respond to mental health and addiction crises. Often, programs also offer follow-up services.
Later this year, the state will seek proposals from communities who wish to establish assisted outpatient treatment programs. The new Mental Health Act provides for five such programs on a “pilot” basis.
In these programs, the courts – in collaboration with community mental health and law enforcement agencies – can require people to receive treatment for mental health and substance abuse disorders.
Meanwhile, the Georgia Mental Health Commission is planning another round of recommendations and subcommittees are meeting monthly, Oliver said.
And the Mental Health Commission is closely monitoring the development of the provisions of the new law.
“There’s a lot of work to be done to ensure our oversight creates a successful implementation,” Oliver said.
This story is available through a partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.