Buono-Vitale Bill Advances To Insure Mental Health, Addiction Services

TRENTON – Insurance coverage for alcohol addiction and mental health treatment would be greatly enhanced under a bill approved today by the Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee.

“It’s only right that mental health problems and alcohol and drug addictions be covered in the same manner as other diseases,” said Senator Joseph F. Vitale, a prime sponsor of the bill, S-807.

“We have to bring our health insurance laws up to par with advances in treating mental illnesses, nervous disorders and addiction,” said Senator Barbara Buono, also a prime sponsor of the bill.

The two Middlesex County Democrats said their bill should be considered now outside looming concerns about the overall cost of health care because parity in coverage is needed to overcome mistreatment of those suffering from mental health disorders, alcoholism and substance abuse.

The bill would apply to state regulated health insurance contracts including hospital medical and health service corporations, commercial health insurers and the State Health Benefits Plan.

Senators Vitale and Buono noted that Pension and Health Benefits Review Commission recommended enactment of the bill’s Assembly counterpart, A-333, last December.

“Early diagnosis and treatment of non-biologically based mental illnesses including alcohol and drug addiction will help prevent greater health care costs in the long run,” said Senator Vitale.

Senator Buono said a key section of the provision would expand the definition of treatment of alcoholism and substance abuse to include inpatient and outpatient care, detoxification, screening and assessment, and non-hospital residential treatment.

“The treatment community has made significant progress in the last decade to break the cycles of addiction with extremely positive, life-saving consequences,” Senator Buono said.

Cost estimates for the bill from both the executive branch and the Legislature’s Office of Legislative Services project that $4.5 million in State and local funds would be required for the bill this year, a figure that would grow to $4.9 million next year.

The panel approved the bill 12-2 and it now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

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