Behavioral health care access bill wins House panel blessing
Cyndi Stevenson seeks better access to mental health services. Image via Colin Hackley.

The bill would require more transparency on how to access services.

People feeling stymied trying to access insured mental health care could get some helpful direction — and the Legislature could get some insight into their challenges — under a bill a House panel unanimously approved Thursday.

Rep. Cyndi Stevenson‘s bill (HB 701) won swift approval from the House Health and Human Services Committee after the St. Johns Republican gave an emotional description of the frustrations many of her constituents said they’ve had trying to arrange mental health care services their insurance companies were supposed to cover.

“I’ve received numerous complaints about access to behavioral health services,” Stevenson said.

Behavioral health services covers mental health and substance abuse health care treatment and support services. Stevenson said too many people in need of those services get the run-around and then get lost in the shuffle.

The measure and its companion bill, Republican Sen. Jason Brodeur‘s SB 1024, would create a number of reporting requirements for insurance companies and health maintenance organizations. They also would have the Department of Financial Services, in collaboration with the Agency for Health Care Administration, set up a system to track and respond to complaints, and then report them to the Legislature.

“Some of those complaints have been brought to me by mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers, years after the time the treatment was most likely to fully restore the health of their loved ones,” Stevenson said. “Some report they or their family members were insured for services but were unable to access them when they needed them most.

“I’ve heard the stories of students dropping out of school, job loss, break-ups of families, imprisonment, and even loss of life attributed to the inability to access needed services,” Stevenson continued. “These constituents often lack detailed information as to who they contacted in their efforts to obtain needed services. HB 701 will correct that.”

Under the measure, companies would be required to make information available on their websites, and in twice-a-year communications with their subscribers, about federal and state requirements for coverage of behavior health care services. They also would be required to provide their subscribers with contact information for the Department of Financial Services’s Division of Consumer Services, including a hyperlink for inquiries or complaints.

The Department of Financial Services would set up a system to collect, compile, and respond to complaints about service issues. The department would submit a report to the Legislature and the Governor next Jan. 1, detailing the numbers of complaints received, the natures of those complaints, and the dispositions of those complaints.

The bill previously was reported favorably by both the House Finance and Facilities Subcommittee and the Insurance and Banking Subcommittee. It still has a stop ahead in the Appropriations Committee.

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at [email protected].


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