Georgians could see immediate positive changes in their behavioral healthcare with the HB 1013 Bill passing in the Georgia State Legislature. The Georgia House passed a bill on April 4 containing seven sections pertaining to ways behavioral healthcare can be improved within the state. This is a welcome change as the pandemic has challenged many in concern to their mental health.
Mental health parity was a priority for the senate, meaning that insurance companies who cover mental health services must cover them in the same way they do other services.
“Mental health parity has been in the federal code since 2008 but there is evidence this has not been happening in Georgia,” says Senator Kay Kirpatrick of the 32nd district. “We’re putting in our state code that insurance companies who cover mental health services in whatever plans they have must treat mental health the same way they treat physical, medical and surgical services. That’s probably the biggest thing.”
This section of the bill was debated within the senate after the bill came to the house.
“One of the things that bothered the senate about the bill was the mental health coverage requirement,” says Kirkpatrick. “The original bill said you have to cover mental health and that would eliminate certain options for consumers. We didn’t want to eliminate those options and drive up the cost.”
Another section in the bill will attempt to bring behavioral healthcare to rural Georgia where many citizens are underserved. The state will now track where providers are practicing, how they are licensed and when they will retire.
“Section two is about the workforce, and it creates a loan program for mental health professionals,” says Kirkpatrick. “People who are wanting to go practice in rural Georgia will be eligible to apply for a service cancellable loan, which means it’s a year for a year. For every year you stay there for the terminal loan, you don’t have to pay it back. What they found about these loans is [providers] tend t0 stay where they land for three years.”
While Kirkpatrick is optimistic about this new legislature, it might take time for Georgians to see its results.
“We don’t have enough mental health providers across the state, and now we can track that,” says Kirkpatrick. “It might take a while to get that information depending on when people’s license expires but the program can go into effect quickly. The workforce thing is the most important, but probably the hardest because it’s difficult to get people to go to underserved areas.
“The loans are one solution but that’s a harder thing to do and money plays into it, too,” continued Kirkpatrick. “There are pieces of the budget that have to take place to support what’s in the bill and that’s still being negotiated between the house and the senate.”
The bill changed as it went from the house to the Georgia Senate. Citizens at the bill hearing spoke out against the bill and there was much debate over the contents from all sides.
“The bill passed on the house side the way that it was but when it came to the senate it hit some resistance,” says Kirkpatrick. “There were a lot of people who felt like the bill was too broad and needed to be fixed. We’ve been working on it for the past three weeks. We passed it on the floor unanimously and it’s on its way to the governor’s desk now.”
Kirkpatrick believes that the bill is in the best shape to make positive changes in the state after the deliberation.
“It’s a difficult needle to thread and I think we did a good job with it,” says Kirkpatrick. “I think it’s gonna get the ball rolling for people with mental illness in Georgia.”