FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 14, 2017
Office of Senator Zaffirini
Will Krueger, Public Information Aide
Office of Representative Price
Hal Talton, Chief of Staff & General Counsel
Austin, TX --- Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, and Representative Four Price, R-Amarillo, today (Feb. 14) filed Senate Bill 860 and House Bill 10, which would ensure that treatments for mental health conditions and substance use disorders are covered by health insurance plans on par with treatments for physical health conditions.
Specifically, the lawmakers' "mental health parity" legislation would:
- Allow the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) not only to require parity protections for all fully insured health plans, including small and individual plans, but also to prevent the health plans from imposing less favorable limitations on mental health and substance use disorder benefits than on medical or surgical benefits.
- Create an Access to Behavioral Health Ombudsman at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to help Texans overcome barriers to mental health and substance use care and designate a stakeholder workgroup to facilitate implementation of mental health parity.
- Require TDI and HHSC to gather data regarding the denial rate of mental health and substance abuse services compared to denials of medical and surgical services to better understand what parity issues currently exist.
"Mental and physical health are equally important to a person's well-being, and comprehensive mental health parity is necessary to ensure persons with mental illnesses and substance use disorders have access to the treatments they need," Senator Zaffirini said. "No Texan should be denied coverage of a diagnosed illness simply because the illness is mental and not physical."
“It is important to address parity so that those suffering from mental illness can receive the same level of care as those suffering from a physical ailment," stated Representative Price. "Healthcare is about treating the whole person, not a single segment of the body, and this bill will help break down barriers to accessing mental health care."
Representative Price serves as chair of the House Committee on Public Health. During the past interim, he served as chair of the House Select Committee on Mental Health, which recently issued a comprehensive report that garnered favorable attention from mental health advocates. The committee’s report outlines numerous recommendations for improving the delivery of mental health services throughout Texas, including "parity" legislation.
Senator Zaffirini long has been an ardent advocate for legislation and funding that improves the lives of persons with mental illnesses. As a member of the Texas Senate since 1987, she has won more than 10 awards for her mental health advocacy and has passed more than 25 bills that specifically improve mental health services for Texans, especially in the community.
In 2013 Senator Zaffirini received the Mary Elizabeth Holdsworth Butt Award from Mental Health America of Texas. Representative Price will receive the 2017 award at the organization's 54th Annual "Evening of Hope" Honoring Dinner in May.