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Senator Vitale

TRENTON – Two bills sponsored by Senator Joseph F. Vitale that serve to increase patient access to health care were approved today by the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.

The first bill, S-1730, designated as the Mental Health Access Act, would increase Medicaid reimbursement rates for certain evidence-based behavioral health services under the State Medicaid program to at least the same level as the Medicare rate for the services.

Specifically, the bill would provide for increased reimbursement to licensed providers for individual or group counseling programs for adults or children that are included in the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices published by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or meet other criteria established by the Commissioner of Human Services, in consultation with the Commissioner of Children and Families, for evidence-based treatment.

“New Jersey’s Medicaid reimbursement rates for behavioral health treatment are among the lowest in the nation, and the individuals who need substance abuse and mental health treatment are not able to access it because providers are simply refusing to accept new Medicaid patients,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex, Chairman of the Senate Health Committee. “If we are to broaden access to quality care and increase choices for healthcare consumers in selecting a provider, this is a big part of the solution.”

The second bill, S-1710, would allow ambulatory care facilities, including Federally Qualified Health Centers, to provide integrated primary health care services that include behavioral health care under a single license. Currently, providers of behavioral health services are licensed by the Department of Human Services (DHS), while ambulatory care facilities are licensed by the Department of Health (DOH).

“The requirement to get multiple licenses places an unnecessary burden on these facilities and thereby compromises patients’ access to needed care,” said Senator Vitale. “It also reduces a facility’s ability to provide coordinated health care to its patients and creates unnecessary barriers to the provision of integrated health care services. This legislation will alleviate that burden.”

Under the bill, the Commissioner of Health, in consultation with the Commissioner of Human Services, would be required to adopt regulations to allow an ambulatory care facility to apply for a modifier to its license to allow it to provide, under its ambulatory care facility license, limited behavioral health care services for individuals who exhibit either mild or moderate symptoms of a behavioral health disorder. The behavioral health treatment services authorized by the bill would include, but not be limited to: assessment and evaluation; referral; linkage and follow-up; individual, group, and family therapy; psychiatric evaluation; medication services; and medication monitoring.

The bills were both approved by the committee with a vote of 6-0. S-1730 now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee and S-1710 heads to the full Senate for further consideration.