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New law aligns Missouri with federal mental health parity standards

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A bill signed into law Wednesday seeks to ensure equitable insurance coverage for mental health conditions, bringing Missouri in line with a federal mental health parity law. 

While Rep. Kurtis Gregory’s HB 604 makes several changes to Missouri’s insurance laws, one portion prohibits insurance companies from imposing limitations on mental health benefits that are more stringent than those applied to medical or surgical benefits. The language brings Missouri in line with the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act signed by former President George W. Bush in 2008. The federal law allowed states to enact their own enforcement mechanisms, an action most other states have taken. 

Other lawmakers advocated for the change this year: Rep. Patty Lewis devoted a bill to it as did Sen. Greg Razer. While neither bill crossed the finish line, Gregory’s bill included Razer’s language — as did another bill awaiting Gov. Mike Parson’s signature. 

“For far too long, we’ve failed to treat mental health in this state for truly what is — a health condition in need of treatment like any other condition. We’ve allowed hurdles to be placed in front of Missourians that make it harder for them to see a doctor and access medications,” Razer told The Missouri Times. “With the passage of mental health parity, I hope we can finally move forward and ensure Missourians have access to the care they need when they need it.”

“As a registered nurse, I saw firsthand that treating mental health mattered just as much as treating someone’s physical needs,” Lewis said. “Bringing us in line with federal standards and recognizing the importance of holistic medicine will do so much to help members of our health care community and the people of this state.”

“The work that went into getting this across the finish line is a great example of collaboration with both sides of the aisles in both the House and the Senate,” she continued.

The language excludes certain policies, including Medicare supplemental policies and specified disease coverage, from the bill’s scope.

Several groups backed efforts to usher the language across the finish line this session, including mental health practitioners and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Missouri. 

“Our hope is that this measure will help eliminate or at least reduce the number of times these individuals are having to go back and either appeal a decision or go through the process of filing a parity violation complaint,” NAMI Missouri Executive Director Gena Terlizzi previously said. “The more often we can see mental health treated like physical health conditions, that is a step in the right direction for us because mental health conditions are very serious and can be debilitating, and we want them to be addressed as seriously as physical illnesses.” 

Other state lawmakers, including those in Massachusetts, have taken their own steps toward enforcing the federal standard this year. 

Other sections of the bill alter the statutory threshold for settlements involving minors that require court approval and allow insurance producers to receive up to four hours of continuing education credits every two years. 

Parson signed other pieces of legislation Wednesday, enacting COVID liability protections for businesses, manufacturers, and churches, in addition to allowing restaurants and bars to permanently serve alcoholic drinks to-go.

This story has been updated with the statement from Lewis. It was originally published July 7.