Not Just a Bailout for the Rich; Mental Health Parity Law Comes Along for the Ride

Mental Health Parity Act: One of the “Sweeteners” Added to the Wall Street Bailout Bill

Thanks to the mess on Wall Street, over a third of Americans will have better health insurance coverage for mental illness and addiction treatments beginning January, 2010. That’s the date that the Paul Wellstone-Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 becomes law.

The mental health parity legislation, which has faced an uphill battle for 12 years, was added to the Wall Street bailout bill as one of the “sweeteners” to make the bailout more palatable to hesitant lawmakers.

The new law forbids employers and group health plans from providing less coverage for mental health care and addictions than for the treatment of other physical conditions like lung diseases or broken bones. According to a Oct. 5 New York Times article on the law, “Most employers and group health plans provide less coverage for mental health care,” than these other kinds of conditions.

Note that it does not require mental health coverage, but just requires that if a plan provides such coverage, it must do so on an equal basis.

Is Increased Mental Health Coverage Just Another Unfunded Mandate on Business?

Helen Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health, damned the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act with faint and qualified praise in a post on TMCnet.com:

“While striking the right balance, this legislation nonetheless remains a benefit mandate on large employers,” she said. “At a time when large employers are working hard to maintain benefits, mandates have the potential over time to erode large employers’ ability to provide coverage to their workers and dependents.”

“A Healthier, More Productive Work Force”

However, according to the President of the American Psychiatric Association, the law will lead to a “healthier, more productive work force.”

“There’s a phenomenon … where you’ve got a psychiatric illness and you’re able to get around but you can’t do your work at the same quality you did before,” said Dr. Nada Stotland. …”Many workers today are in the service industry. If a person on the other end of the line is depressed, they may have shown up to work and they may be present, but they will not necessarily make us happy about the company that we’re calling. … So, more and more companies want to see their employees treated.”

Indeed, “presentee-ism” is an issue that’s on the plate of many managers and HR leaders today. When an otherwise productive worker comes to work depressed, the effect can be just as bad as if the same worker came in with a serious case of the flu. Either way, productivity suffers regardless of the employee’s good intentions. And, either way, the employee has a health condition that is treatable.

For that reason alone, the good done by the Mental Health Parity Act will almost certainly outweigh the two-tenths of 1 percent increase in premiums estimated by the Congressional Budget Office.

So, What’s the Connection Between The Financial Bailout/Rescue and Mental Health Parity?

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi attempted to relate the two pieces of legislation:

Today, the House acted in a bipartisan way to pass the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act with the aim of addressing the challenges felt by Americans on Main Street. Among those many challenges is the fact that almost every American family has to grapple with mental illness at some point. By including the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act in this essential legislation, we are requiring that illness in the brain be treated just like illness anywhere else in the body for insurance purposes.

More Details on the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008

Here’s the Congressional summary (deep into the bailout bill summary):

Amends the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), the Public Health Service Act, and the Internal Revenue Code to require a group health plan that provides both medical and surgical benefits and mental health or substance use disorder benefits to ensure that: (1) the financial requirements, such as deductibles and copayments, applicable to such mental health or substance use disorder benefits are no more restrictive than the predominant financial requirements applied to substantially all medical and surgical benefits covered by the plan; (2) there are no separate cost sharing requirements that are applicable only with respect to mental health or substance use disorder benefits; (3) the treatment limitations applicable to such mental health or substance use disorder benefits are no more restrictive than the predominant treatment limitations applied to substantially all medical and surgical benefits covered by the plan; and (4) there are no separate treatment limitations that are applicable only with respect to mental health or substance use disorder benefits.

2 Comments

  1. kATHY

    This is the best news I have heard in a long time. Finally people are accepting the fact that mental illness is “REAL” people need help.I think having the stigma attached to mental illness is inhuman. Every insurance company should have unlimited mental health coverage with absolutely no limitations and the patient should see whatever provider that they are comforable with. this is reality. there is another law that should be passed with all insurance companies- THERE SHOULD BE NO LIFETIME MAX!!! if a person has reached a lifetime max that usally means they have something catisrophic/long term illnesses like cancer ect… That’s when U really need the insurance. People are going into medical crises and loosing homes just to survive. This is inhuman. SOMEONE HELP OUR SOCIETY!!!!

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