A multifaceted bill aiming to improve access to mental health and reduce suicides in Arizona is one step closer to becoming law, with the Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously passing “Jake’s Law” on Tuesday.
This means the state would adopt current federal mental health parity laws and would make it illegal for insurance providers to put limitations on the days of coverage for behavioral health care.
Jake’s Law is named after Jacob Machovksy, who took his own life at the age of 15 in January 2016. Since then, his parents started the JEM Foundation in his name to combat rising suicide rates and to break the stigma surrounding mental health.
“Jake struggled with bipolar disorder and most people didn’t know about his struggles with mental illness,” Denise Denslow, Jacob’s mother, told the committee in an emotional speech. “He was the kid with the mask, smiling, laughing and taking care of everyone else.”
His father, Ben Denslow, explained that Jacob was admitted to a hospital for treatment.
But their insurance only covered a five-day treatment, even though his doctors believed that he needed a longer stay in the hospital. Jacob died less than three months later.
He would still be alive if Arizona had a parity law, Ben Denslow said.
“If Jake had a cardiac condition and his heart wasn’t strong enough for him to go home, he’d have stayed in the hospital. Why is this any different?” he asked.
The bill, introduced by Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, would also provide the Arizona Department of Health Services $8 million to expand behavioral youth services in schools, and it would establish a suicide mortality review team to study suicides.
Sen. Sean Bowie, D-Phoenix, branded the legislation as “one of the most important bills” the Senate will vote on this legislative session.
The measure is supported by Gov. Doug Ducey.
Ducey spoke about the importance of suicide prevention during his 2020 State of the State address and said he is working closely with Brophy McGee and Rep. Jeff Weninger, R-Chandler, on passing a parity law.
Christina Corieri, Ducey’s health care policy advisor, told the committee that it is a “sad reality” that suicide rates are on the rise both in the country and in Arizona.
“In fact, nearly four Arizonans die each day from suicide,” Corieri said. “That’s higher than the number of deaths from automobile accidents.”
Others, like Christie Lee Kinchen, who is an Arizona realtor, spoke about her own experience with suicidal attempts and the high medical costs that came with it.
“Like Jake’s parents, I’ve struggled with getting my life-saving treatments covered by my insurance,” Kinchen said. “I currently have six figures of medical debt over me for surviving.”