Substance abuse and recovery advocates in Georgia want to expand the Mental Health Parity Act – WABE

Mental health and addiction recovery advocates in Georgia are gearing up for the next legislative session, which begins in January. High on their agenda is a plan to build on the landmark Mental Health Parity Act HB 1013 from the last session.

A coalition of organizations is already meeting with General Assembly lawmakers, including Newington Republican Majority Leader Jon Burns, who is set to become the next House Speaker.

Jeff Breedlove, director of the Georgia Council for Recovery Policy, hopes Burns will continue to build on the work of mental health reform championed by his predecessor, the late David Ralston, who died November 16.

“We have ranked 51st in many, many polls. It will take a series of big bills to turn this broken system into one that the state of Georgia is proud of,” Breedlove said.

“We are thrilled to have a speaker who wants to continue the positive behavioral health reform movement in Georgia. Burns has proven he is an advocate for the recovery community and we believe he will take Speaker Ralston’s legacy to the next level.”

Burns was among the bipartisan lawmakers in the House and Senate who overwhelmingly voted to pass HB 1013.

The law’s parity provisions require health insurers to cover mental illness on an equal footing with physical illness, which prohibits insurers from denying patients medically necessary care.

The law also aims to expand access to behavioral health and substance abuse treatment services across the state and increase the number of state treatment and mental health providers.

As the legislation continues to be introduced, Breedlove said his coalition, which includes NAMI Georgia, is already busy lobbying the governor, the General Assembly and the Behavioral Health and Innovation Reform Commission to approve those efforts at the next meeting support.

“We will consider whether it is time to expand funding for existing government programs that the state is already paying for as overdose rates continue to rise. And we need to increase funding to support recovery programs.”

Data from the Department of Health shows that the number of opioid overdose deaths in the state continues to rise, with 67% of Georgia’s drug overdose deaths in 2020 being opioid-related.

The Mental Health Parity Act went into effect in July.