SAN DIEGO: Sued For Parity In Mental Health Disability Coverage
"A lawsuit pending against the city of San Diego seeks to make long-term disability coverage the same for mental and physical illnesses," the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. While the city formerly provided long-term disability for the mentally ill, a high volume of claims ultimately made coverage too costly. "Of the 831 disability claims filed in 1992 and 1993, 111 were for mental disorders," comprising "$757,940 of the $3.7 million paid out during those two years." Upon renegotiations with city employees' labor unions, permanent coverage was eliminated. Currently, the city covers only two years for mental conditions, while physical disabilities are covered until age 65. The mental health benefit is not available in any form to those hired after 1994. Julie Italiano, president of the Municipal Employees Association, claims that the reduction in coverage "was shoved down our throats."
Jenny Badua, a city employee for 11 years, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1994, for which she claimed long-term disability. She was covered for two years, whereupon her benefits were suspended. She sued the city under the Americans With Disabilities Act, alleging that the city is discriminating against those with mental illnesses. Badua's attorney, Linda Kilb, is attempting to show that the city is making an invalid distinction between those afflicted by mental and physical maladies. Kilb said, "We believe that the U.S. Supreme Court law and the federal statutes ... require parity. If a municipality were to say, 'This benefit costs too much for all, so we are going to exclude our African-American members,' that would not be an acceptable solution." Mark Stiffler, deputy city attorney, asserts that the city's policy does not discriminate against anyone in particular. He said the policy "is not discrimination between disabled and nondisabled (but) discrimination between disabilities." The city of Phoenix faced a similar situation, and eventually settled out of court and now has parity. However, "[a]bout one-third of the nation's 12 federal circuit courts of appeal have ruled on similar cases -- always in favor of the employer" (Brooks, 2/15).