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Assembly Bill No. 3548: New Jersey Prioritizes Adolescent Mental Health

By: Cristina N. Hyde, JD

On April 30, 2021, Gov. Phil Murphy signed A3548 (P.L. 2021, c.73) into law. It requires insurance coverage for expenses incurred in screening adolescents between the ages of 12 and 18 for major depressive disorder. This disorder can profoundly affect children during their formative adolescent years which are crucial to developing and maintaining healthy social and emotional habits.

Needed now more than ever due to the overwhelming strain placed on our youth by the COVID-19, pandemic, this legislation acknowledges the effects depression can have on an adolescent’s personal life, schoolwork and attendance, work, social life, and family life. Therefore, it is meant to provide struggling teens with the proper support and treatment they need to cope with the aftermath of the pandemic and onward. It does this through ensuring that appropriate mental health screenings are readily available through the elimination of financial barriers.

The new law applies to hospital, medical, and health service corporations. It also applies to commercial, individual, small employer, and larger group insurers, health maintenance organizations, the State Health Benefits Program and the School Employees’ Health Benefits Program. The legislation includes the following mandates:

  • Coverage for depression and mental health conditions be to the same extent as any other condition within the scope of a contract or policy.
  • Coverage may not be denied solely on the basis that the screening was provided in conjunction with another health care evaluation, treatment, or service.
  • Insurers may not charge covered persons any form of cost sharing.

In 2020, the World Health Organization, determined that depression is the fourth leading cause of illness and disability among 15 to 19 year-olds and fifteenth for those ages 10-14 years. Sadly, the WHO also reported that half of all mental health conditions start by age 14; remaining predominantly undetected and untreated. Legislation like A3548 is a step in the right direction towards the early diagnosis and effective treatment that our adolescents desperately need.

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