MENTAL HEALTH PARITY: Wilson Rejects Reform Bill
Gov. Pete Wilson Monday vetoed controversial mental health parity legislation. State Assemblywoman Helen Thomson's (D-Davis) and Assemblyman Don Perata's (D-Oakland) mental health parity bill would have required HMOs and insurers to provide insurance coverage for six biologically based mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder, equal to that provided for physical illnesses. The governor said he vetoed the measure AB 1100 because it was "too broad" and would have driven up the cost of health insurance, making coverage unaffordable for many Californians. "California's working families should have access to affordable mental health insurance coverage," he wrote in "a lengthy veto message to the Legislature" (Marquis, Los Angeles Times, 9/30). "The authors have engaged in a shortsighted 'all or nothing' strategy that would impose on California employers coverage beyond what other states require," Wilson said, noting that the measure did not exempt small businesses (AP/Capitol Alert, 9/29). However, mental health advocates expressed dismay at the veto, noting that "they had worked closely with the Wilson administration" to craft an acceptable bill, agreeing to limit it to six biologically based mental illnesses and "to limit hospitalizations and day treatment." Thomson said, "We started out with what (Wilson spokesperson) Sean Walsh called a Christmas tree. We ended up being the Charlie Brown Christmas tree. We took children out, we took autism out, we took a whole bunch of stuff out," she said (Times, 9/30). Thomson noted that 19 other states have passed similar legislation and that the parity measure was backed by state and national mental health advocacy groups, all major health care provider associations and city and county governments across the state. Thomson said she would propose "an even stronger measure next year" for the next governor to sign (Thomson release, 9/28).
The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill "blasted" Wilson for his veto, accusing him of "caving into pressure from the insurance industry." NAMI Executive Director Laurie Flynn said, "The only thing greater than our anger over Governor Wilson's veto is our immense sadness. With the stroke of a pen, he has allowed insurance policies to continue blocking access to life-saving treatment for thousands of Californians with mental illnesses" (NAMI release, 9/29). Alluding to Texas Gov. George Bush (R), Flynn noted that "other Republican governors have also signed" mental health parity measures and that there "has been a bipartisan push for equal coverage." But Wilson noted that "Texas exempted small employers with 50 or less employees. Even so, several Texas health plans are already projecting premium increases of 4% to 8% as a result of the mandate" (Times, 9/30). Click mental health parity for past CHL coverage of the issue.