New Arizona measure tackles suicide, mental health

A measure to improve access to mental healthcare and reduce a rising suicide rate in Arizona was introduced late last week in the state’s legislature.

The so-called “Jake’s Law” would expand youth access to behavioral health services in schools with an $8 million appropriation, establish a suicide mortality review team, and ensures insurance plans offered in Arizona comply with existing federal mental health parity laws, according to the bill’s sponsors.

Two concurrent measures – SB1523 and HB2764 – of Jake’s Law were introduced by Sen. Kate Brophy McGee and Rep. Jeff Weninger.  The law is named after Jacob Edward Machovsky who was lost to suicide on Jan. 11, 2016.

Jake’s Law will require insurance companies to conduct and file an analysis with the state Department of Insurance demonstrating their compliance with federal parity laws. The department will review the reports to identify potential violations and give insurers an opportunity to address those issues, say the bill’s supporters.

Currently, only 40.3 percent of Arizonans living with mental illness are getting treatment and 41 percent of patients who are receiving treatment are going out-of-network for their mental health services, according to the JEM Foundation, an anti-suicide group formed after Machovsky’s death.

“The bill is quite simply about equality. Insurers should not be able to discriminate between illnesses of the brain – like depression, anxiety, and addiction – and any other physical health condition,” said Denise Denslow, co-founder of the JEM Foundation. “I am so proud of this legislation and grateful for Gov. (Doug) Ducey and Sen. Brophy McGee’s leadership. Jake’s Law will undoubtedly save lives.”

Ducey called for insurance parity in dealing with mental health issues in his annual State of the State address in January.

Jake’s Law includes other provisions, including

  • Requires insurance cards issued in Arizona to clearly identify which governmental agency to contact for questions or to file complaints.
  • Requires the Department of Insurance to establish a consumer-friendly webpage containing resources pertaining to mental health parity, a step-by-step guide on how to file parity violation complaints, and a summary regarding insurers’ compliance with mental health parity laws.
  • Prohibits an insurer from denying a claim for mental health or substance abuse benefits based solely on the grounds that the service was provided in an educational setting or was court ordered.
  • Establishes a Mental Health Parity Advisory Committee to provide the Director of the Department of Insurance advice on case management, discharge planning, and expedited review and appeals processes for cases involving suicidal ideation.
  • Expands access to behavioral health services in schools be establishing an $8 million fund to help students covered by private insurance but who are unable to afford their copay or deductible.
  • Establishes and appropriates $100,000 for a Suicide Mortality Review Team within the Department of Health Services.