MENTAL HEALTH PARITY: Pending Senate Bill Would Close Loophole
A law "awaiting Senate approval would require employers to equalize mental health benefits in ways that will close loopholes in the" new federal mental health parity law, the Orange County Register reports. The federal law, which takes effect in March, "will prohibit companies ... from placing smaller annual and lifetime dollar caps on mental health coverage than they do on coverage for physical ills." Under the proposed California law, "[f]or eight biologically based illnesses, including schizophrenia and serious depression, companies could not get around the dollar cap by imposing limits on outpatient visits and hospitals stays that they don't also place on medical conditions." Other mental illnesses covered by the law include "schizoaffective disorder, manic-depressive illness ... panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and 'serious emotional disturbances of children.'" And "[i]f continuing research proves anorexia has a biological component, it will be added," the Register reports.
Time To Comply
"Several Orange County companies that are not in compliance said they are changing their benefit plans," according to the Register. Newport Beach-based Pacific Life Insurance Co. "is lifting its annual limit of $10,000 for mental health benefits," and its "$35,000 lifetime limit will grow to $1 million, to match the limit for medical conditions." According to company officials, the "change will increase the company's health care costs less than one-half of one percent and employee premiums will not rise."
According to state Assemblyman Scott Baugh (R-Huntington Beach), vice chair of the Assembly health committee, the difficulty with the proposed law will be getting it "past Gov. Pete Wilson." He said while there is sympathy on both sides of the aisle for people with severe mental illness, "The analysis comes down to whether this is going to result in a situation where we address one problem yet end up throwing a bunch of people off the insured rolls and fail to keep health insurance affordable." He added, "In its present form, I don't think the bill gets past the governor. It's too big a leap" (Weintraub, 1/31).