Senate passes bill to reduce barriers to substance abuse treatment


STATE HOUSE – The Senate today passed legislation sponsored by Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Joshua Miller to help Rhode Islanders get the recovery help they need.

The legislation (2022-S 2078A) would help ensure that patients discharged from hospitals with mental health disorders, including substance abuse disorders, are discharged into the appropriate inpatient or outpatient setting quickly and efficiently, and would require that health plans cover residential or inpatient behavioral health treatment and prohibit prior authorization requirements for such treatment.

“Patients who visit the emergency room for a problem involving substance abuse shouldn’t be just sent home or discharged to the street if they need further recovery services. The chances of a patient actually getting the help they need and succeeding in their recovery are drastically reduced if they don’t start right away,” said Chairman Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence), who has sponsored numerous laws to help encourage rehabilitation and smooth the transition to it for patients who are discharged from hospitals. “The most effective way to help people with substance abuse disorders is to make it as easy as possible for them to get into recovery treatment. We need to do everything we can to eliminate any waiting and any administrative hoops they have to jump through. The quicker they walk in the door, the better chance they have at recovery, and the more likely they are to avert an overdose or other serious problem.”

This bill requires the Department of Health and the Department of Behavioral Health, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals to develop and implement a plan to ensure that patients with mental health disorders, including substance use disorders, are discharged from hospitals into the appropriate inpatient or outpatient settings as quickly and efficiently as possible.

It requires that health plans provide coverage for necessary residential or inpatient services for the treatment of behavioral health disorders, and prohibits them from requiring preauthorization prior to a patient obtaining such services. Under the bill, the treatment facility would need to provide the health plan notification of admission, proof that an assessment was conducted, the initial treatment plan, and an estimated length of stay within 48 hours of admission.

This bill also requires hospitals to incorporate consent for peer recovery specialist services into a comprehensive patient consent form.

“This bill helps eliminate the insurance barriers to behavioral health inpatient treatment, and increase timeliness of care, which can amount to a matter of life or death,” said Chairman Miller. “The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the existing mental health and substance use disorder crisis across the country, and Rhode Island experienced a record number of overdose deaths in 2021. Now more than ever, we need policies that increase access to care for Rhode Islanders.”

The legislation now goes to the House of Representatives. It is cosponsored by Sen. Bridget Valverde (D-Dist. 35, North Kingstown, East Greenwich, Narragansett, South Kingstown), Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin (D-Dist. 1, Providence), Sen. Louis P. DiPalma (D-Dist. 12, Middletown, Newport, Tiverton, Little Compton), Sen. Alana M. DiMario (D-Dist. 36, Narragansett, North Kingstown), Sen. Samuel D. Zurier (D-Dist. 3, Providence) and Sen. James A. Seveney (D-Dist. 11, Portsmouth, Bristol, Tiverton).