This Bill Misses The Point

Insurers and benefit managers, in an attempt to keep a lid on soaring mental health care costs, used to place far more stringent limits on such coverage than those they routinely apply to treatment of non-psychological woes.

Congress tried to redress this injustice by passing the Mental Health Parity Act in 1996. But the law, which limits the restrictions that can be imposed by employers, sunsets on Sept. 30.

In voting to extend the law earlier this month, a Senate committee expanded the law’s scope beyond biologically based disorders to virtually all mental health problems. The new law would also prohibit employers from applying specific limits on cost sharing, number of visits, or days of coverage.

Employer and health insurer groups immediately howled that the new mandates would hike premiums and force firms to limit other benefits or drop mental health coverage altogether to keep group plans affordable.

As with the debate over a patients’ bill of rights, we sympathize with those who want to prevent people needing medical care from falling between the widening cracks in the health insurance system.

On the other hand, as with patients’ rights bills, any initiative to broaden coverage is going to put more pressure on already soaring health insurance costs, which will either force cutbacks in benefits or pass-alongs to employees.

In addition, new mandates will only help the dwindling number of people lucky enough to have health insurance.

The overriding goal in the short term should be to get basic health insurance to as many people as possible. Any political move to increase costs will defeat this primary purpose and leave millions worse off than they were before any “protections” were voted into place.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, September 3, 2001. Copyright 2001 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.


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