NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Mental health issues are a big problem in New Mexico. Now, state lawmakers are trying to make it easier for people to get help.

Senate Bill 273 states that insurance in New Mexico cannot put any more coverage restrictions on mental health and substance use treatment than are applied to any other medical services.

“This bill requires following federal legislation, but with teeth in it, to take away the barriers to access behavioral health and substance use disorder. So, there’s no referrals. No prior authorizations, as you know, the moment someone’s ready to go, you gotta go,” saids Senator Martin Hickey (D-Albuquerque), lead sponsor of this bill.

Senator Hickey stated this bill also gives commercial insurance companies leverage to raise their rates for behavioral health providers, so they can attract more and keep them in the state.

Due to time restraints, no one in the audience was allowed to speak in support or opposition, but committee members raised concerns about how this would affect insurance premiums.

“When behavioral health conditions are stabilized, or substance use, those individuals usually have comorbid chronic diseases, and they’re not taking their pills. They’re getting out of control. They’re showing up in emergency rooms. They’re getting admitted, and once they’re stabilized because they get access to care, those costs go down by a factor of three to four,” Hickey said.

This bill also includes that insurers make their best efforts to maintain an adequate network of providers who offer these services in the state.

According to a legislative report, if this bill is not enacted, the state will not have the capacity to create consumer protections for equal mental health coverage.

This bill passed the Senate Finance Committee on a 5 to 3 vote. It now heads to the Senate Floor.