MENTAL HEALTH: Clinton Wants Parity for Fed. Employees
The Clinton Administration intends to mandate that private health plans that insure federal employees provide coverage for "severe" mental impairments comparable to that for physical conditions, say administration officials and Tipper Gore, who will chair a White House conference on mental health next month. Under the new guidelines, expected to be unveiled at the June 7 conference, plans "could not set limits on the number of outpatient visits or days in the hospital for treatment of mental disorders that are more stringent than those for the treatment of physical illnesses like heart disease or cancer. The policy would also bar co- payments for mental health care higher than those for the treatment of physical illnesses." White House health policy adviser Chris Jennings said, "The president believes that the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program should serve as a model for the rest of the health care industry. Parity for federal health plans will not only provide better access to needed mental health services but also illustrate that such coverage can be done affordably."
But at What Cost?
Shelley Stewart, deputy director of federal relations at the American Psychiatric Association, said that by testing parity in the federal plan, the government can "show that it's not that expensive." But Stephen Gammarino, senior vice president of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, whose members insure 40% of federal employees, said the proposal "could cost a fair amount of money" for something that has not "been requested by federal employees." Mrs. Gore said, "A number of companies are already providing parity, and it's costing about 25 cents a day, at the most. That is much less than the people who have been afraid to provide mental health coverage were predicting." On the public perceptions of mental health treatment, she added, "There are just too many people who saw Woody Allen movies years ago. Lying on the couch forever and ever, that's a stereotype. ... That's not what we're talking about. It's another myth to bust. Most people with mental illness are not out to rip off the system" (Pear, New York Times, 5/25).