J. Stephen Conn

Connecticut legislators and mental health advocates gathered for a press conference in Hartford on Thursday to publicly advocate for the passage of Senate Bill 384, which would make mental health treatment more accessible and affordable by requiring increased transparency from health insurance companies. The bill passed the Insurance Committee by a unanimous 21–0 vote and will now head to the Connecticut State Senate.

If enacted, the proposed legislation would require that screenings for mental conditions be included as part of an annual physical exam and would expand the data that health insurance companies must report to the state. That data would allow regulators to investigate obstructions preventing people from getting mental health treatment and discrimination against people with mental health conditions in seeking medical care. The bill would also make drug prices more transparent to the public by requiring drug companies to justify any price increase greater than 25 percent.

With the help of mental-health care advocates, state Sen. Ted Kennedy, Jr., D-Branford, state Sen. Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, and state Reps. Brenda Kupchick, R-Fairfield, and Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, are leading the push for the bill’s passage.

“Connecticut families still struggle with accessing mental health treatment,” Kennedy said. “This is not a Democratic issue or a Republican issue, because this issue impacts nearly every single family in our state. We’ve heard from countless doctors, families and patients how they struggle to get mental health treatments approved.”

Following the 2012 mass shooting at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School, the state passed a law in 2013 to address gun violence, mental health and school safety. Five years later, however, Connecticut still lags behind many states in accessibility of mental health treatment.

A report released in December by the independent consulting firm Milliman found that Connecticut residents face high out-of-pocket costs for mental health treatment due to the state’s large number of out-of-network mental health providers. The report also revealed that Connecticut commercial policyholders were 10.5 times more likely to be sent to out-of-network providers for mental health and behavioral services than for physical services. According to the data, 34 percent of appointments made for mental health services were made with out-of-network providers, compared to just 3 percent for medical visits — the largest discrepancy of any state in the country.

“One of the things that usually is the biggest obstacle for people seeking treatment is the stigma associated with mental health and mental illness,” said Mary Mason, the spokesperson for the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, a health care agency that serves adults with psychiatric or substance use disorders who lack the financial means to obtain such services on their own. “People don’t necessarily want to reach out to a mental health provider because they’re afraid they will be discriminated against if they have a mental health illness.”

According to Mason, the department serves about 112,000 “uninsured or underinsured” people a year across Connecticut.

Kupchick discussed Connecticut’s failure to provide easily available mental health care during her speech on Thursday.

“If you have a serious physical health issue, you are treated in the state of Connecticut, but if you have a mental health issue, you are running around in circles trying to get help,” she said. “It’s just simply not right. I am really excited that we worked together to put this bill together.”

With a little over two weeks left in the legislative session, the bill will now head to the Senate. The regular legislative session adjourns on May 9.

Caroline Moore | caroline.moore@yale.edu