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W.Va. Senate passes mental health bill

Weld

WHEELING — The West Virginia Senate, on Thursday, unanimously passed a bill that would require all insurance providers in the state to cover mental health issues the same way they do physical health issues — even autism spectrum disorder.

Too often insurance providers limit the times a patient needing counseling, treatment or psychiatric care for a mental health condition may see their doctor, explained Sen. Ryan Weld, R-Brooke. Or the costs for co-payments or screenings for mental health issues may differ from those pertaining to medical conditions, he said.

Weld is the lead sponsor for Senate 502, which passed 34-0 on Thursday and is now on its way to the House of Delegates.

It states “any service, even if it is related to the behavioral health, mental health, or substance use disorder diagnosis if medical in nature, shall be reviewed as a medical claim and undergo all utilization review as applicable.”

“The carrier is required to provide coverage for the prevention of, screening for, and treatment of behavioral health, mental health, and substance use disorders that is no less extensive than the coverage provided for any physical illness and that complies with the requirements of this section,” the legislation states. “This screening shall include, but is not limited to, unhealthy alcohol use for adults, substance use for adults and adolescents, and depression screening for adolescents and adults.”

Autism spectrum disorder issues also would be covered under the bill.

“This is, to me, one of the biggest bills we can do this session,” Weld said. “We have heard so much about people needing access to treatment on mental health issues, and we’ve seen the loss of options through the closing of OVMC (Ohio Valley Medical Center.)”

“A lot of times people with mental health issues … their insurance may cover enough to stabilize them, but not cover their underlying issues. It’s not treating depression or bi-polar disorder.”

The bill doesn’t force insurers to “cover something new,” but requires coverage be at the same level for mental health issues as physical health issues, he said.

“What is important is that over the decades, we have started to talk about mental issues in the open. It’s OK to talk about in the open, and it is important people seeking help have that access to care.

“I’m hopeful the House of Delegates takes up the bill and makes it a priority.”

(King can be contacted at jking@theintelligencer.net)

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