TRACKING TALLAHASSEE 2
November 2019

What happens in Tallahassee has more impact on our daily lives than most people appreciate. Here are a few bills that NAMI Collier has been tracking with the help of Alisa LaPolt, a mental health policy consultant and advocate.

Controversy over mental health coverage gains attention

Federal law requires that group health insurance plans cover mental health as they would physical health, known as insurance “parity.” But that’s not always happening, and the issue is starting to get widespread attention.

We anticipate that legislation will be filed for the 2020 Florida Legislature that would require health plans in Florida to report how they are complying with federal parity laws. And, it would force the  Florida Office of Insurance Regulation to review those reports for parity violations. It is similar to bipartisan legislation pending in Congress that has passed several other states.

Already, one Florida health plan is being sued. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida and its behavioral health claims administrator, New Directions Behavioral Health, have been named in a class action lawsuit for knowingly using “improper guidelines to make coverage decisions, preventing patients from receiving the behavioral health coverage they were promised,” according to attorneys.

The Florida Mental Health Advocacy Coalition (of which NAMI Collier is a member) is bringing attention to this issue and working with a larger coalition that includes psychiatrists, suicide prevention advocates, and many others.

Stay tuned.

Insurance deny treatment:

Check this CBS news link for reporting how insurance companies often deny treatment for patients with mental illness.  

2020 Bills filed:

With the 2020 session of the Florida Legislature starting in January, many lawmakers are filing a variety of bills related to mental illness.

  • Sen. Daryl Rouson and Rep. Susan Valdes have filed bills (SB 588 and HB 315) that would authorize school boards to allow students to have one excused absence per semester for a mental health day.   
  • Legislation (HB 373) by Rep. Ralph Massullo would create a pathway for patients to get the medications they need without health plans forcing them to first try the least expensive version (a process known as “step therapy”).  Similar legislation has been filed in previous years with opposition from the health insurance industry.
  • Rep. Amy Mercado has filed a bill (HB 415) that would make post-traumatic stress disorder covered under worker’s compensation benefits for correctional officers. A similar bill passed in 2018 for first responders.

Also, here are two important developments that impact our community directly:

1.  When middle and high schools in Collier County prepared for the start of the new school year, they had to include a new subject area in their curriculum: mental health education.

Under a new requirement passed by the State Board of Education on July 17, every public school is required to provide students in grades 6-12 at least five hours of mental health instruction. 

The instruction must include:

  • Awareness of signs and symptoms
  • Process for getting or seeking help for themselves or others;
  • Awareness of resources (i.e., Fortify Florida app and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255); and
  • What to do or say to peers struggling with mental health disorders.

2.  When it comes to mental health in the Latino/Hispanic community, our national NAMI office found that Latinos and Hispanics are at a higher risk for severe mental illness. In fact, Latina teenagers attempt suicide more often than any other group of female teenagers nationwide. This is in part because of a lack of treatment options and the poor quality of treatment, according to a recent USA Today article. 

Spanish-speaking Americans across the U.S. say they have a hard time finding mental health care services in their native language. Only 5.5% of U.S. psychologists say they’re able to administer mental health care services in Spanish, according to a survey released by the American Psychological Association in September 2016, the most recent data available. In all, 44.9% of psychologists said they were “quite or extremely knowledgeable” about working with Hispanic patients, the article states.To read the full USA Today story, click here.

NAMI Collier helps those living in our county and provides many services in both Spanish and English. Please encourage those you know who need assistance and support to contact NAMI Collier.

3. NAMI’s Ending the Silence presentation is conducted by an adult and a young adult with a lived experience with mental illness. For more information, or to help us spread Ending the Silence in the area, please contact us. 

These briefs are provided by Alisa LaPolt of Tallahassee, a mental health policy consultant and advocate. She can be reached at alisa@alisalapolt.com