Our Priorities

Parity and Equity

In 2008, President Bush signed the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA into law. The MHPAEA of 2008 requires health insurers and group health plans to provide the same level of benefits for mental and/or substance use treatment and services that they do for medical/surgical care. MHPAEA was expanded to ensure that qualified plans offered on the Health Insurance Marketplace cover many behavioral health treatments and services. The aim of the Parity Act is to eliminate restrictions on mental health and substance use coverage – like annual visit limits, higher copayments, separate deductibles, and rules on how care is managed (such as pre-authorizations, fail first policies, or medical necessity reviews).

A year and a half later, in March 2010, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) became law. In the years since full implementation of the ACA, the availability and scope of coverage for mental and substance use disorder treatments have been further enhanced through regulations. In December 2016, Congress built on this foundation through enactment of the 21st Century Cures Act, which directs more funding to treatment for mental and substance use disorders. To preserve improvements in health insurance coverage, proposals to change the health insurance market should attend to the key elements of reforms established by the MHPAEA, the ACA, and the 21st Century Cures Act.

Provide comprehensive services for Military Veterans and their Families

Every veteran must have access to the best mental health care and community supports. Georgia must work to identify and support veterans in crisis and dramatically improve access to mental health care by (1) making Behavioral Health Screenings available at the time of discharge, and ensuring warm transfer to comprehensive services when applicable, and (2) providing support for families of veterans and trauma informed care to help prepare families as their loved one transitions back to civilian life.

Increase awareness and education for Alzheimer’s and Aging Population

The aging population is highly affected by mental illness. It is estimated that 20% of people age 55 years or older experience a mental health concern, such as anxiety, severe cognitive impairment, and mood disorders. Men aged 85 years or older have a suicide rate that is four times higher than the general population. Also, Alzheimer’s disease (AD) can cause symptoms related to mental health, such as depression, anxiety, agitation, and hallucinations. To better care for our aging population Georgia must (1) ensure that primary care physicians and the staffs of senior living centers are trained to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illness, and (2) there must be mandatory behavioral health screenings during prescribed primary care visits.

Coordinated Transitions for Returning Citizens with Behavioral Health Challenges

One out of six prisoners in Georgia has been diagnosed with a mental illness. To enhance the success of the transitioning population with a mental health diagnosis, Georgia should (1) increase community collaboration between local jail system and behavioral health providers by utilizing blended funded programs and warm hand offs between jails and behavioral health providers, and (2) suspend, rather than terminate, Medicaid for inmates so that they can have access to behavioral health care and medications immediately following their release.

Expansion of comprehensive services and supports for Children and their Families

As we learn more about the development of the brain the need for early mental health services for infants and toddlers becomes more apparent. These services help caregivers become equipped with skills needed to improve the long term outcomes for our children. To ensure our children have the greatest opportunities for success we must (1) have behavioral health screenings during pediatric visits, with ongoing family education surrounding social emotional development, and (2) there must be thoughtful implementation of the Jason Flatt Act, to ensure that schools are educated on working with children’s social and emotional health, evidenced by specific training to help educators recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illness in a classroom setting, with a pre- and post-test.

Expansion of Housing Options for individuals with Serious Mental Illness at risk of homelessness

Over 10,000 Georgians face homelessness daily of which approximately struggle with chronic homelessness. Mental illness and/or substance use is many times a factor in those individuals on the streets or transitional settings. Independence is a key factor in recovery and we will need to see an expansion of housing vouchers for individuals who may not meet the criteria as severe and persistent mental illness but seek independence to improve their overall functioning and prevent exacerbation of symptoms.

Integrated healthcare to reduce stigma and improve overall Health for Georgians

To achieve true parity and to eliminate stigma, mental health and physical health services must be integrated. Primary health care services are not associated with any specific health condition, which makes this level of care far more acceptable – and therefore accessible – for most individuals and families. To fully integrate care we must (1) integrate our mobile crisis system into our emergency services system to increase awareness, accessibility and safety for individuals in crisis, by training dispatchers in mental health first aid and first responders in CIT, and (2) we must integrate behavioral health services into the primary care setting, by utilizing shared office space and telemedicine.