Gov. Brian Kemp

ATLANTA – Gov. Brian Kemp signed legislation Monday aimed at pulling Georgia off the bottom among state rankings for access to mental-health services.

“Today has been a long time coming,” Kemp said during a signing ceremony inside the Georgia Capitol. “This ultimate outcome is exactly what we hoped for.”

House Bill 1013, which the General Assembly passed unanimously, stems from the recommendations of a commission of legal and mental health experts created in 2019.

The legislation, House Speaker David Ralston’s top priority for this year’s session, includes a parity provision requiring insurance companies to cover mental illness the same as physical illness. The parity requirement also applies to Georgia’s Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids programs, and to the State Health Benefit Plan.

The bill also requires care management organizations (CMOs) participating in Georgia Medicaid to dedicate at least 85% of their revenues to patient care. And it establishes a service-cancelable loan program to address a workforce shortage by offering loan forgiveness to several types of mental-health specialists as well as primary-care physicians.

Failure was not an option,” said Ralston, R-Blue Ridge. “The status quo had to go.”

Ralston said the legislation is backed by $183 million in the fiscal 2023 state budget dedicated to helping the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Development Disabilities implement the bill’s provisions.

“Georgia is making a transformational commitment to improving health care,” the speaker said.

“House Bill 1013 is one of the rare moments I will remember for a lifetime,” added Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, who helped steer the bill through the Senate as its presiding officer. “The cumulative good this bill will do is immeasurable.”

The Behavioral Health Reform and Innovation Commission will continue its work after the mental health reform bill takes effect. The measure authorizes the panel to continue meeting and developing suggestions for future legislation through June 30, 2025.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.