Holland, five other state senators co-sponsor mental health parity bill

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Kansas Statehouse in Topeka

Lawrence-area Sen. Tom Holland pre-filed a bipartisan bill last week that would make mental health care coverage more accessible.

Holland, a Democrat from Baldwin City, co-sponsored the bill with five other senators, including Republican Sen. Molly Baumgardner, of Louisburg. Holland and Baumgardner announced the details of the bill — Senate Bill 249 — Thursday at the Statehouse. It will be known as the Kristi L. Bennett Mental Health Parity Act.

Bennett was the daughter of one of Holland’s constituents. She died by suicide about eight months ago.

“I was actually approached by the family soon after the tragedy occurred,” Holland said.

Bennett’s father, Jerry Bennett, said, “I met with Senator Holland to find out if there was anything we could do as far as passing a law to help these persons in crisis get past their insurance company and directly to these facilities.”

Bennett’s daughter had attempted to receive treatment at an out-of-network mental health facility but was denied by insurance.

This bill would require insurance plans to provide coverage “without the imposition of prior authorization, concurrent review, retrospective review or other form of utilization review when the treating provider in consultation with the patient deems it medically necessary,” according to the press release.

Bennett’s older sister, Jennifer Cook, said the bill would give medical providers, not insurance companies, the authority to decide if a person should be admitted to a mental health facility.

Cook said her sister was told she could not be admitted to a facility unless she was in a crisis situation, meaning unless she had attempted suicide.

“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. But that is what’s happening with individuals facing a mental health crisis,” Baumgardner said Thursday, according to a news release. “And through that lens, mental health parity is not an unreasonable ask.”

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

“Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death overall in Kansas,” Holland said Thursday, according to the news release. “This bill is intended to ensure mental health issues – particularly for those who are actively suicidal or exhibiting suicidal ideation – and substance abuse issues are treated in the same manner as physical health issues as required under the federal mental health parity act.”

Cook said that working on making a change in the Legislature has helped take her mind off the tragedy but that she’s been told it will be a tough bill to pass.

“We’re going up against insurance companies, which is a little scary,” she said. She believes the insurance companies will argue that the bill will raise people’s premiums.

“If it was your cousin or your daughter … or your sister, in my case, how much are they worth?” Cook asked. “I just hope they look at it that way.”

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