State Sen. Debbe Leftwich said her measure to improve access to behavioral health care in Oklahoma is dead for two years after failing to receive passage from a Senate committee on Thursday. Leftwich said Senate Bill 452 would have closed a loophole that currently prevents thousands of Oklahomans from getting the treatment they need.
“Republicans in the Senate Retirement and Insurance Committee, two of which sell insurance in the private sector, lined up and voted in lockstep to protect their friends in the insurance industry while Oklahomans seeking treatment for serious illnesses have been shut out,” said Leftwich, D-Oklahoma City.
Leftwich said the problem is that the largest single insurance company in the state refuses to cover the cost of seeing health care providers such as licensed professional counselors, licensed marriage and family therapists, behavioral health professionals and advanced practice nurses. They will cover treatment by an M.D. psychiatrist or a PhD psychologist. However, those doctors are generally based in metropolitan areas.
“That means thousands of people in rural Oklahoma simply can’t get the help they need,” said Leftwich. “This bill would have guaranteed greater access for Oklahomans and families who need behavioral health services by ensuring that insurance companies follow the intent of the existing law. As it is now, insurance companies have found a loophole so big you could drive a truck through it.”
Leftwich said before killing the bill, there was a Republican attempt to amend the bill so that all patients needing behavioral treatment would have to first be seen by a doctor or psychologist. She said that would actually have cost insurance companies more money than her proposal, as those doctors tend to charge higher rates to see patients.
“This leaves countless Oklahomans between a rock and a hard place and unable to get the care they need,” Leftwich said. “Many people don’t have a choice about their insurance coverage if it’s provided through their job. Even those who can afford to pay for a psychiatrist or psychologist out-of-pocket may not live close enough to take advantage of those services. Oklahomans have been sold out in favor of the powerful insurance lobby.”