MENTAL HEALTH PARITY: Bill Passes State Senate
The California state Senate yesterday in a 22-8 vote, "approved legislation ... requiring health insurance companies to cover severe mental illness as they cover physical ailments," the Los Angeles Times reports. The measure "would require health insurance plans to provide equal coverage for physical and mental illnesses, including prescriptions, doctor visits and hospital stays." The Times reports that the bill "would go further than federal legislation that took effect in January." The bill lists seven biologically based mental disorders that would be covered, and also has a "broader definition" of childhood mental illnesses that would be covered.
Debating The Issue
The Times reports that according to a March survey by mental health advocacy groups, only four of the 100 largest plans in the state provide a level of coverage equal to that in the bill sponsored by state Assemblywoman Helen Thomson (D-Davis) and state Assemblyman Don Perata (D-Alameda) (Morain/Marquis, 6/12). The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that opponents of the measure, "including the California Chamber of Commerce and managed health care plans, contend that the legislation would drive up the costs of premiums so much that it might persuade some businesses to drop health insurance completely." A spokesperson for Gov. Pete Wilson (R) said, "It's a bad bill, it's bad public policy" (Ainsworth, 6/12). The Times reports that Wilson has threatened to veto the bill. Maureen O'Haren of the California Association of Health Plans, said, "[The bill] is going to reduce the number of employers who can afford to provide health coverage. We care about that because we want to do more business. We want more people to have coverage" (6/12). But supporters "have been touting a new study released by the California Center for Health Improvement ... showing that 90% of the public favored parity for mental illness." Thomson said, "This survey shows that there are no more excuses for the insurance industry to continue its historical practice of discrimination against the mentally ill"(Union-Tribune, 6/12). State Sen. Patrick Johnston (D) said the bill "would result in 'low cost, spread the risk kind of coverage' that would cost no more than $1 a year per person covered" ( Contra-Costa Times, 6/12). The bill now "faces an uncertain future" as it goes back to the Assembly, "which approved a version earlier in the year" (Union-Tribune, 6/12).