State mental health bill gets approval of senate committee, sparks controversy

A bill overhauling Georgia's mental health care system is sparking controversy. 

House Bill 1013, called the Mental Health Parity Act, approved a revised version of the bill Monday. 

Supporters and critics of the bill showed up to the House Senate Health and Human Services Committee meeting. 

"State's not the right place for healthcare to be," said Michele Sarkisian. She said she vehemently opposes HB 1013. 

"It's primarily because there is such ambiguity in the language. This is a pharma windfall. When you think about all the mental illnesses, ADHD falls in there, ADD falls in there, anxiety falls in there. And it's a pharma windfall," Sarkisian said. 

Meanwhile, some said it will bring much needed support to those with mental illnesses.  

"When I was 17, I went to treatment for the first time for a substance use disorder. Insurance covered me up to a period of time. And then afterwards, it was up to my parents to pay. Well, the next time I went and tried to get treatment, I was pre diagnosed, and the insurance companies were not supportive," said Brian Kite, who showed up to support the bill. 

The bill would require health insurance companies that offer mental health coverage to treat mental illnesses the same way they treat physical illnesses.  

It also includes a loan forgiveness program to those working in certain types of mental health specialties.

"When I came back from the war in 2010, I had no resources and didn't know exactly what was available. And even more importantly, my family didn't know what was available and that was in 2010 and here in 2022, nothing has changed," said David Kendrick. 

The senate committee's version of the bill attempted to address some criticisms. 

Unlike the previous version, the definition of "medical necessity" of treatment will be determined by the insurers.

It also now states someone must show an imminent threat to self or others to be committed for treatment. 

It removes all together a portion of the bill that drew a lot of concerns from those opposed. 

"The involuntary inpatient provision of this have been removed. So what some folks were concerned was perhaps a gateway to a red flag law. That piece has been removed where you can no longer be involuntarily confined. We're not changing the definition of how you can be involuntarily confined. We're reverting back to the existing law," said Sen. Greg Dolezal. 

The spokesperson for House Speaker David Ralston, who sponsored the bill said "We appreciate the Senate’s willingness to work with us on this critically important legislation.  While we are still reviewing the Senate substitute with experts and advocates, we are happy the bill continues to move expeditiously through the legislative process."