Kansas lawmakers want stronger law on mental health coverage

December 29, 2019 GMT

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A bipartisan group of Kansas lawmakers is proposing a measure aimed at making sure that health insurance companies don’t skirt a state law for ensuring that they cover mental health services.

Democratic state Sen. Tom Holland of Baldwin City and Republican Sen. Molly Baumgardner of Louisburg outlined the details of their bill during a recent Statehouse news conference, the Lawrence Journal-World reports. They’ve already drafted it and filed it so that it will be introduced when lawmakers open their next annual session Jan. 13.

The measure would strengthen a state law that requires health insurance companies to cover mental health services in line with how they cover medical care. Holland and Baumgardner say people suffering from mental illness and their families have discovered that insurers can throw up obstacles to getting services, such as requiring prior approval or not authorizing coverage unless someone has attempted suicide first.

The bill would rename the state’s mental health coverage parity law after Kristi L. Bennett, a Lenexa woman who overdosed on antidepressant medication eight months ago, family members said, after being told that her outpatient treatment wouldn’t be covered unless she had tried to commit suicide first.

“Imagine if an individual — family member, neighbor, or co-worker — with coronary artery blockage was told by their insurance company that they wouldn’t cover stent surgery until they first suffered a heart attack. That seems irrational,” Baumgardner said. “But that is what’s happening with individuals facing a mental health crisis.”

This bill would require insurance plans to provide coverage without requiring prior authorization or a review by the insurance company when a health care provider deems treatment medically necessary. Four other Democratic senators have joined Holland and Baumgardner as sponsors.

The measure also would require that when no in-network treatment facility is immediately available, the insurer must provide exceptions to ensure coverage within 24 hours.

“It is imperative that Kansas lawmakers begin knocking down those barriers that would deny life-saving services and treatments to those Kansans desperately crying out for help in a time of crisis,” Holland said.