(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Pamela Lampitt, Angelica Jimenez and Jamel Holley to require health benefits coverage for juvenile depression screenings was approved Thursday by the General Assembly.
The legislation describes clinical depression as a condition characterized by persistent unhappiness or a loss of interest or pleasure in most activities. Further, depression can negatively affect the developmental trajectories of affected youth. Major depressive disorder in children and adolescents is strongly associated with recurrent depression in adulthood; other mental disorders; and increased suicidal risk.
“Depression is associated with higher levels of stress and anxiety and can affect a teen’s personal, school, work, social, and family life, leading to social isolation and other problems,” said Lampitt (D-Camden, Burlington). “Early diagnosis is essential to the effective treatment of depression in young people.”
The bill (A-1469) requires insurance coverage for expenses incurred in screening adolescents between the ages of 12 and 18 for major depressive disorder, so long as screening for major depressive disorder in adolescents continues to receive a rating of “A” or “B” from the United States Preventative Services Task Force.
Among children and adolescents aged 8 to 15 years, 2 percent of males and 4 percent of females reported having MDD in the last year; and in nationally representative U.S. surveys, about 8 percent of adolescents reported having major depression. The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommends screening for MDD in adolescents aged 12 to 18 years.
“The adolescent and teenage years are hard enough to navigate. Depression, if untreated, can be detrimental for young people,” said Jimenez (D-Bergen/Hudson) “Making it easier for adolescents to receive screening and care for depression is critical to families helping their loved ones deal with symptoms. Parents and children suffering from this disease should not have to go at it alone.”
“Young people dealing with depression may choose to self-medicate with drugs and other harmful substances. We need to prevent this,” said Holley (D-Union). “By facilitating mental health screenings, we can ensure that young people who are struggling with some type of mental disorder are properly diagnosed and receive the care that will actually help them.”
The bill would apply to hospital, medical, and health service corporations; commercial individual, small employer, and larger group insurers; health maintenance organizations; and the State Health Benefits Program and the School Employees’ Health Benefits Program.
The bill was approved 74-3-0 and now awaits further consideration from the Senate.