MENTAL HEALTH PARITY: Coalitions Form On Both Sides Of Proposed Law
Coalitions for and against a new state mental health parity bill remain vocal as they await Gov. Pete Wilson's decision on whether to accept the measure. The legislation, AB 1100, which would require health insurance companies to cover mental illnesses the same way they would cover physical ailments, passed the state Senate June 11.
AB 1100's future is "uncertain" because "Wilson objects to provisions he contends could create a hardship for employers and insurers." Business and industry groups share those concerns, arguing that the law "could raise insurance premiums as much as 11%," the Los Angeles Times reports. The California Chamber of Commerce opposes "any state mandate rigidly dictating what employers must do," said Fred Main, the group's senior vice president. And insurance industry representatives say they will pass extra costs on to employers if AB 1100 is enacted. "It's a burden on employers and individuals," said Maureen O'Haren, spokesperson for the California Association of Health Plans. "It's not our economic burden because we just basically pass it on to employers."
Asking For Help
Mental health advocates say the bill is "perhaps the most significant piece of health legislation ever approved" because it would take away the "double standard" between physical and mental illnesses. The law's backers balk at opponents' contentions that the bill will raise premiums 11%; they "say it is likely to cause only a 1% increase." In fact, they say the bill could save money down the road. "First, people have to lose everything they have, and then the public pays not only for mental health treatment but sometimes housing, rehabilitation and all sorts of other costs," said Chad Costello, who heads programs at Orange County's Mental Health Association. One woman "had no choice but to declare [her son] indigent so he could become eligible to receive" county mental health coverage, the Times reports. One in four Orange County families are touched by mental illness, and as many as 64,000 people in the area suffer from some mental disability (Richardson, 6/30).