MENTAL HEALTH: Parity Bills Advance In Several States
The Oklahoma House voted 53-41 yesterday to pass legislation "requiring insurance companies to provide coverage for certain mental illnesses." The bill (SB 1059) "would require insurance companies to provide coverage for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness), major depression, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and schizo-affective disorder," the Tulsa World reports. The bill would apply only to those businesses with more than 50 workers, and it would not apply "when the additional coverage would cause premium costs to increase by more than 3%." The legislation now returns to the Senate for further consideration. The World notes that Gov. Frank Keating (R) "vetoed a weaker version of the bill last year, saying it would put a financial burden on businesses" (Ford, 4/9).
Into The Bayou
The Louisiana House Insurance Committee indefinitely deferred a bill Tuesday "that sought to require medical insurance policies to cover certain severe mental illnesses," the Baton Rouge Advocate reports. The move "effectively kills" House Bill 120, proposed by state Rep. Jim Donelon (R). Even before the vote, the bill had been weakened by an amendment which stripped language that would cover a more general "severe emotional disturbance." Supporters can still fall back on a similar Senate bill, SB 167, which "includes a provision to allow people to opt out of mental illness coverage if" such coverage raises their premiums by "more than four percent over the preceding six months" (Sapp, 4/8).
Volunteer State Coverage
Both the Tennessee House Commerce and Senate Commerce, Labor and Agriculture committees Tuesday approved "without a dissenting vote" respective mental health parity bills, the Memphis Commercial Appeal reports. "Disorders in the brain should not be treated as distinct from disorders in the heart, lungs or liver," said June Palmer, president of the Tennessee Alliance for the Mentally Ill. HB 3177 and SB 2798 would mandate 20 inpatient and 25 outpatient days per year for mental health coverage. The bills would exempt insurance companies if "they can prove it would cost more than one percent of the premium to provide the coverage" (Branson, 4/8).
Urging Passage In Arizona
An editorial in Wednesday's Arizona Daily Star calls on the state Senate to follow the lead of the House in passing a mental health parity bill. "While this would be new for insurance companies, it makes sense to provide a full range of coverage when mental and abuse problems may well debilitate a worker just as a back injury or cancer would. Several other states with such coverage report dropping costs of all medical care as a result of timely treatment," the editorial concludes (4/8).
Empire State Reform
According to the Albany Times Union, mental health advocates Tuesday urged New York lawmakers "to continue" the state's "practice of channeling money formerly spent on institutional psychiatric care to community-based programs." Beginning in 1993, the state began closing state mental hospitals and diverting the funds to 1,247 decentralized local programs for the mentally ill. Lobbyists are asking the state to "extend its reinvestment strategy for an additional five years." New York plans to eliminate 400 more institutional beds this year, and the Times Union notes that "the states pumps $61,500 into the reinvestment program" for every bed that is eliminated (Tully, 4/8).