Whitmer signs bill to close insurance ‘loophole’ and boost access to mental health care

By Kyle Kaminski

May 22, 2024

Legislation signed into law this week by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will require insurance companies to cover treatments for mental and health and substance use disorders at the same level as physical health services.

MICHIGAN—A bill signed into law on Tuesday by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer aims to bridge the gap between mental and physical health care, namely by forcing insurance companies to stop skimping out on patient coverage for mental health issues and substance use disorders.

Senate Bill 27 will require insurers statewide to cover treatment for mental health and substance use disorders at the same level as other physical health services. Whitmer said it aims to close a long-standing “loophole” in state law that has prevented Michiganders from accessing care.

“Every person in Michigan deserves access to mental and physical health care,” Whitmer said in a statement. “Getting this done will ensure Michiganders get the care they need and close loopholes that have allowed providers to avoid covering these essential services.”

State Sen. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing) served as the lead sponsor for the bill after she introduced similar legislation in the House in 2022.

Specifically, the new law amends the state Insurance Code to require insurers expand their coverage to include behavioral health treatment “at a level of benefits that was no less favorable than the level provided for physical illness.”

Anthony said the new law recognizes the importance of mental health coverage—particularly as studies show more than half of adults in the US with mental illnesses don’t receive treatment.

“Michiganders’ mental health is no less important than their physical health—no one should go without the care they need because they can’t afford it,” Anthony said in a statement.

Under federal law, insurance companies are generally prohibited from imposing less favorable benefit limitations on mental health treatment, according to a state Senate analysis. The new state legislation effectively aligns Michigan’s standards with those existing federal rules.

Marianne Huff, president of the Mental Health Association of Michigan, and Dominick Pallone, director at the Michigan Association of Health Plans, praised the new law as a turning point that will help ensure more consistency in mental health coverage throughout the state of Michigan.

“Mental health and addiction treatment is viewed as being as vital as physical healthcare,” Huff said. “There is an understanding that the brain, the mind and the body are a unified system.”

Whitmer first proposed state legislation to create parity in coverage for mental health and substance use disorders during her 2022 State of the State address. And over the last several years, she said mental health has been near the top of her administration’s priority list.

This year’s budget included $328 million for mental health and school safety, and her latest budget proposal includes an additional $300 million to continue investing in student mental health. The governor’s administration also helped to open a new 100-bed psychiatric hospital in Caro, and Whitmer has also signed bills to increase mental health resources for crime victims.

In a statement, Anita Fox, director of the Michigan Department of Insurance and Financial Services (DIFS), also emphasized the significance of the new state law for patients statewide.

The governor has signed legislation that will help Michiganders get the care they need to get better and to prioritize their overall wellbeing,” Fox said. “In our role as a consumer protection agency, DIFS will continue to do everything within our power to ensure that Michiganders can get coverage for the mental and physical health treatments they need to stay healthy.”

Questions or concerns about your health insurance coverage? Fox encourages Michiganders who need assistance to contact DIFS at 877-999-6442 on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

READ MORE: 7 ways Whitmer’s new budget plan invests in Michigan kids and schools

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Author

  • Kyle Kaminski

    Kyle Kaminski is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than a decade of experience covering news across Michigan. Prior to joining The ‘Gander, Kyle worked as the managing editor at City Pulse in Lansing and as a reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

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