Bipartisan Ohio bills seek to square state and federal mental health laws

By: - December 19, 2019 12:35 am

A photo of the Ohio Statehouse from Wikimedia Commons.

The issue of mental health is getting attention in the Ohio Statehouse, with one law passed and some others introduced to help match state laws to federal laws. Still another seeks to create more room in state psychiatric hospitals for those who need it.

In a matter of a few days at the beginning of December, the House and Senate were both considering bills on the topic of mental health and substance use disorder benefits to create parity between the federal and state laws.

State Sen. Theresa Gavarone, R-Bowling Green.

State Sen. Theresa Gavarone, R-Bowling Green, and state Sen. Sean O’Brien, D-Bazetta, introduced Senate Bill 254, which was then referred to the Senate Insurance and Financial Institutions Committee on Wednesday. Gavarone said a decade has passed since the federal laws were changed, and it’s past time that Ohio brings itself in line with those mental health standards.

“We need to look a little closer at our insurer practices… with the idea being that we need to help people access the right type of care,” Gavarone told the Capital Journal.

She said other states have examined their parity laws and aligning them with federal standards has brought millions of dollars in savings.

State Rep. Allison Russo, D-Upper Arlington, and state Rep. Phil Plummer, R-Dayton, are working together on a similar bill, House Bill 443, to align mental health laws in the state, raise awareness of rights and allow for better enforcement of current law.

“There has really been a lack of consistency in both the oversight and enforcement of this law,” Russo said. “There is a lot of ambiguity and a lot of confusion, (in) particular for those trying to enforce these laws.”

State Rep. Allison Russo, D-Upper Arlington.

The House bill was referred to the Health Committee on Dec. 11.

Another of Gavarone’s efforts to change the mental health laws in the state has already moved through the Senate and is working its way through the House.

Senate Bill 58 would address what Gavarone called a “critical lack of state hospital beds” by redirecting non-violent misdemeanor offenders awaiting court decisions on their mental competency away from state psychiatric hospitals needed for other mental health services.

“We can spend tens of millions to expand our state hospitals, but even then, would people get the appropriate level of care to fit their needs?” Gavarone stated in her testimony before the House Health Committee on Dec. 10.

The bill seeks to assure psychiatric hospital beds are used for the “sickest of the sick” and that access to treatment is given to those who need it, rather than having to turn people away when they seek help.

“The idea of this bill is to end that revolving door,” Gavarone said.

The Senate passed the bill 30-1 in October, moving it over to the House.

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Susan Tebben
Susan Tebben

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow (KY) Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.