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Rep. Laurie Bishop

At the Montana Legislature, one thing lawmakers of both parties agree on is that we need better access to mental health and substance abuse services.

We can’t solve all the issues around mental health and the shocking suicide rate in our state all at once, but we should make all the progress we possibly can. To that end, I’m proud to carry a bill this legislative session that takes a small but significant step to get more people the services they need.

House Bill 142, the Mental Health Parity Act, would update Montana law to reflect a simple principle: Your health insurance must cover mental health at the same level it covers physical health.

With this expression of Montana values, we’ll chip away at the barriers keeping people from getting the help they need. We’ve made great strides in access and awareness of mental health care in recent years, and this is an opportunity to take another step forward.

The bill is the result of months of collaboration among mental health care providers, insurers, and advocates for mental health. It was developed by former Montana Insurance Commissioner Monica Lindeen, a Democrat, and is also supported by current Montana Insurance Commissioner Matt Rosendale, a Republican.

It would cost the state nothing and have very little if any impact on your insurance premiums. While parity is already in federal law, its broad applicability to the majority of policies is directly linked to protections that are currently under threat. That’s why we need to take control at the state level – so no matter what happens in Washington, Montanans are protected and insurers and the insured will have no doubt about their benefits.

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We still have a long road ahead to make sure all Montanans have access to the mental health and substance abuse services they need, especially in rural areas. We need to overcome the stigma of mental illness, get skilled professionals where they are needed and make health coverage more available and affordable for everyone.

We can’t only rely on federal policies to do right by Montana. We have to take action at the state level. HB 142 is a Montana-made solution with support from both sides of the aisle and from the people on the ground who face the serious issue of mental illness everyday.

At the Legislature, there’s plenty of disagreement on all kinds of issues, but I hope we can seize this moment of cooperation and collaboration and make positive change for Montana. Passing HB 142 can literally save lives. I hope my fellow legislators will support this bill and get it to the governor’s desk, so that no one in Montana with health insurance will be deprived of the care they need.

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Rep. Laurie Bishop, D-Livingston, represents House District 60 in the Montana Legislature.

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