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Senate Approves Buono-Vitale Bill To Fully Insure Mental Health Treatment And Addiction Services

TRENTON – The Senate today approved a bill to provide “parity” insurance coverage for alcohol addiction and mental health treatment under a bill sponsored by Senators Joseph F. Vitale and Barbara Buono, both D-Middlesex.

The Senate approved the bill 29 to 9 and it now goes to the Assembly.

“This is the right and fair thing to do for those suffering from the burdens of mental health problems and alcohol and drug addictions,” said Senator Vitale. “This minimal investment for treatment now will save lives and untold millions of dollars down the road.”

“Our health insurance laws should reflect our understanding that mental illnesses, nervous disorders and addictions are treatable diseases,” said Senator Buono. “Justice can’t wait for victims of these diseases.”

Sens. Vitale and Buono said “scare tactics” by opponents spread fears about inflated costs being hidden in their legislation.

“It might be easy to play with numbers, but they shouldn’t be abused to play with people’s lives,” said Senator Vitale.

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.

“The key in treating non-biologically based mental illnesses including alcohol and drug addiction is early diagnosis,” said Senator Buono.

Senator Vitale 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 Vitale 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.

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