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Warwick Rep Leads Charge to Merge Primary Care, Behavioral Health

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Photo: RI General Assembly Press Bureau

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State Rep. David A. Bennett (D-Dist. 20, Warwick, Cranston) is at the forefront of a drive to better integrate primary care and behavioral health treatments in Rhode Island.

As co-chair of the Joint Legislative Commission to Study the Integration of Primary Care and Behavioral Health, Bennett is a signatory on a new 66-page report that recommends ways to knit together existing systems of treatment.

“In life, there’s a close connection between mental and behavioral health and a person’s physical health. People with substance abuse problems or mental illness, for example, often have other health problems, and frequently they’re the symptoms,” said Bennett, who is also a psychiatric nurse at Butler Hospital. “Our system of health care and insurance should recognize that connection. The human body is made up of systems that work together to keep you healthy and functioning. When one of these systems breaks down, it slowly starts to affect all the other systems too. Treating the whole person is effective.”

The commission also proposed the following legislation:

  • 2014-S 2769 – The Behavioral Health Reform Act of 2014 –Sponsored by Sen. Donna M. Nesselbush (D-Dist. 15, Pawtucket, North Providence), this bill recognizes the benefits to public health that result from embedding access to high quality behavioral health services into the framework for health care in Rhode Island. It underscores the need for routine screening of behavioral health in children, the importance of behavioral health prevention programs, the critical role played by a robust cadre of behavioral health care professionals, and the array of evidence-based tools and procedures that can support behavioral health screening and treatment. The legislation would also increase access to behavioral health care by including behavioral health providers in health plans and aligning co-payments for behavioral health office visits with non-preventive primary care office visits.
  • 2014-S 2701 – This bill sponsored by Sen. Catherine Cool Rumsey (D-Dist. 34, Exeter, Charlestown, Hopkinton, Richmond, West Greenwich) amends the existing mental health parity law to ensure it applies not only to mental health care, but also to care for substance abuse and other behavioral health issues, including diagnosis, therapy and prescriptions.
  • 2014-S 2359, 2014-H 7936– This bill sponsored by Co-chairmen Miller and Bennett would require that insurers make a decision on whether to authorize emergency inpatient or residential treatment for mental, emotional or substance abuse within two hours of the receipt of all the necessary information. It also requires that they provide a means for a health care provider to seek reconsideration if the authorization is denied.
  • 2014-S 2536, 2014-H 7790 – This bill sponsored Sen. Gayle L. Goldin (D-Dist. 3, Providence and Rep. Robert B. Jacquard (D-Dist. 17, Cranston) would redefine “health care providers” for insurance purposes as those identified by a review agent as having primary responsibility for the care, treatment, and services provided to a patient and would add that mental health and substance abuse treatment facilities and physicians are included.
  • A resolution, to be introduced, will request that Department of Health and the Office of the Health Insurance Commissioner work with health insurers to develop a plan for an outcomes-driven pilot project to integrate health promotion and primary and behavioral healthcare. The Department of Health and Office of the Health Insurance Commission would present their plan for a pilot program to the General Assembly for its consideration.
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* Portions of this article were taken directly from rilin.state.ri.us