New mental health laws take effect in Oklahoma, expanding access to care

November 16, 2023

Four bills developed by Healthy Minds Policy Initiative in the 2023 legislative session took effect in Oklahoma this month, expanding Oklahomans’ access to care and strengthening the state’s ability to grow and empower its behavioral health workforce.

Senate Bills 254 and 442 were born out of Healthy Minds’ 2023 study examining barriers to accessing mental health and substance use treatment through commercial insurance networks.  

SB 254, authored by Sen. Jessica Garvin and Rep. Jeff Boatman, requires commercial insurers to arrange behavioral health care for plan subscribers if they cannot find timely care on their own. It also caps costs for patients if the insurer makes arrangements for the patient to see an out-of-network provider.

SB 442, by former Sen. John Michael Montgomery and Rep. Chris Sneed, takes on the issue of “ghost networks” and aims to make it easier for Oklahomans to find in-network mental health care. Healthy Minds’ research found that most behavioral health providers listed by insurance networks appeared to be unavailable or unreachable – many had disconnected phone lines.

The new law requires insurance companies to update their provider directories every 60 days and to remove providers from plan directories if they haven’t submitted a claim to the plan in a year.  The bill also requires insurers to remove providers from plan directories if they provider hasn’t submitted a claim to the plan in a year.

Healthy Minds’ other two priority bills, Senate Bill 444 and House Bill 2175, also passed this legislative session.

SB 444, by Montgomery and Rep. Nicole Miller, activated medical billing codes that allow primary care doctors, psychiatrists, and mental health providers to be reimbursed when they collaborate to treat patients in what’s called the Collaborative Care model. In this model, psychiatrists can support primary care doctors and consult on cases, and other mental health providers can support both positions while often also providing therapy down the hall. The new law is an important step for efforts to promote integration of behavioral health care into primary care settings.

HB 2175, creates the Behavioral Health Workforce Development Fund, which can be used to fund early-career pathways, retain existing professionals and support clinicians who want to advance their careers.

While no money has been appropriated to the fund so far, Healthy Minds’ recommendations for strengthening Oklahoma’s behavioral health workforce pipelines suggest an initial $1.25 million commitment to the fund to offer loan repayment to 50 individuals.

All four laws took effect Nov. 1. Read more about their impact in this story from StateImpact Oklahoma.