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New laws help enforce mental health, substance abuse parity

Megan Pauly
Delaware Public Media

Legislators and advocates are applauding three bills signed into law Tuesday aimed at helping prevent further opioid overdose deaths in the First State.

One new law requires healthcare providers to cover inpatient medical attention for those seeking diagnosis and treatment of serious mental illnesses and drug and alcohol dependencies.


Retired Delaware Superior Court Judge Jerry Herlihy, who spent 39 months with New Castle County's drug diversion program, says he thinks that law will help many of those he say cycle in and out of drug court.

"People were relapsing because they couldn't get into intensive outpatient care right away," Herlihy said. "The insurance company would make them jump through certain hoops before they got into it, they wanted them to go to a STEP program..."

Even for those who did appeal their insurance denial claim, Herlihy says many would relapse while waiting for the claim to be resolved.


Another law signed Tuesday requires the state’s Medicaid program as well as private insurance carriers to provide notice to those denied substance abuse treatment that legal assistance is available to help them challenge claim denials.


That legal help would come by way of the Department of Justice, which is now authorized to pay for it through the Consumer Protection Fund. It also allows the Department of Justice to seek additional outside resources as necessary. Attorney General Matt says this law won't take effect for another 120 days, which he says is fairly standard for new insurance regulations.


"Part of the reason for it is to give everybody an opportunity to do it," Denn said. "So we now need to - in our office - put out an RFP for the lawyers and medical professionals who will provide that service. The Medicaid program and private insurers have to come up with the forms and systems to let people know when they get denied so they have this right."


Denn says he hopes this measure will encourage people to fight for the parity they’re guaranteed by the federal 2008 Mental Health and Substance Abuse Parity Act.


“The legal right has been there for almost 10 years now, but it’s not worth much if people don’t know about and if they don’t have the means that their disposal to actually enforce it," Denn said.


The third new law supports more involvement from the Delaware Prescription Monitoring Program Advisory Committee in holding providers responsible when it comes to possible abuse -  or misuse – of prescriptions.


Rep. Helene Keeley says she’s optimistic this law will help, adding she’s already seen progress after recently polling several young people who’ve had their wisdom teeth pulled.


“I can tell you – the word’s getting out," Keeley said. "Cuz I’ve asked em, I’ve asked every single one of them – what were they prescribed. And not one of them were prescribed an opioid.”


Keeley says instead - they were advised to take Tylenol.  She notes a couple of years ago, several doctors were prescribing opioids to those  having wisdom teeth pulled.


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