MENTAL HEALTH: Blue Shield Drops Hospitalization for Individuals
Blue Shield of California announced Friday that it will drop coverage of psychiatric hospitalization for its individual policyholders, drawing the ire of mental health parity advocates. As of July 1, the 121,000 members of Blue Shield's Preferred Plus Plan will lose hospitalization coverage, which will be replaced with limited coverage of outpatient visits to a mental health clinic. "This is a cowardly act," said San Francisco Suicide Prevention Executive Director Eve Meyer, adding, "It reflects the general feeling that if you can't see bandages and blood, a person is not in pain. In fact, people still do need mental health coverage, but they will go to the county when their savings are exhausted, and their care will come at taxpayer expense, and probably at a higher cost." Blue Shield spokesperson Clark Miller said, "The rationale for this change is so that more members will have access to psychiatric services. Far more consumers need and use outpatient services than inpatient services. To offer both would have required premium increases that we wanted to avoid." Assemblywoman Helen Thomson (D-Davis), sponsor of AB 88, which would mandate mental health coverage in California, called the decision "a beautiful example of blatant discrimination." Arguing that Blue Cross' decision makes the case for mental health parity, the California Mental Health Association's Rusty Selix said, "We hope this is not a trend. We understand that no health plan wants to offer richer mental health benefits, because they could become a magnet for people who need the care. That's why we need parity. We need to create a level playing field" (Russell, San Francisco Chronicle, 6/26).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.