Janesville42.7°

State must fix mental health law

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Frank Mixdorf
January 11, 2008

What key policy is missing in Wisconsin that 42 other states have found critical enough to enact into law? The answer is that insurance coverage for medically necessary treatment of mental health disorders needs to be comparable to the coverage of other medical conditions.


Here are five reasons why insurance parity is vitally important to Wisconsin residents.


First, mental health parity legislation will allow greater access to effective treatments for Wisconsin residents who have severe biological disorders such as major depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive and panic disorders, schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder.


Current insurance caps on spending and inpatient/outpatient visits are grossly disproportionate to other covered illnesses. Adding insult to injury, cost-of-living adjustments have not been made since 1985!


Second, although lobbyists who oppose parity insurance coverage would like you to believe that it will drive up premium costs, the actual facts soundly refute this. Well-researched and numerous nationwide studies based on real experiences, not out-of-date information, show that enacting parity has not resulted in sharp cost increases and in many cases has lowered premium costs.


Because inadequately treated mental illness and substance disorders cost U.S. businesses between $79 billion and $105 billion per year, why would employers not want to provide parity insurance coverage?


Third, when their private insurance coverage benefits are exhausted, many individuals bankrupt their savings and often turn to the public sector for treatment, increasing costs to all layers of government.


Fourth, an alarming number of children and adolescents who need mental health/substance abuse services do not receive them. Untreated mental illness results in increased high school dropout rates, lower employment and greater likelihood of incarceration. Early identification and treatment are highly effective in changing young lives.


Fifth, the inequitable position of present state law legally sanctions discrimination against people with mental illnesses in Wisconsin. This is simply morally repugnant. There is no justification for a health plan to impose limits or conditions on coverage that do not apply to other illnesses.


Ending discrimination in private health insurance is clearly a requirement for equitable access to needed mental health care. The cost of not providing or strictly limiting this medical care continues to be incalculable to individuals (job loss, lifelong disability, loss of friends, loss of future), to their families (emotional and caregiving stress, loss of companionship, financial devastation), and to the taxpayers (increased public sector costs of disability, long-term care, homelessness, inappropriate incarceration).


Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, has just introduced a comprehensive bill, SB 375, to put mental health and substance abuse insurance coverage on par with coverage of other physical illnesses. Rep. Sheryl Albers, R-Reedsburg, is lead Assembly sponsor.


Wisconsinís current law is inadequate and discriminatory. Forty-two states plus 9 million federal employees, including all members of Congress, have parity insurance coverage. We encourage support of Hansenís bill so Wisconsinís citizens can have it, too.


Frank Mixdorf of New Glarus is president of NAMI Wisconsin (National Alliance on Mental Illness). Phone (608) 527-2299; e-mail fcmixdorf@tds.net.

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