Bonita Springs, Fla.

A new disability insurance mental health parity mandate could shake up the Vermont disability insurance market.

Steven Clayburn, a senior director at the American Council of Life Insurers, Washington, talked about the mandate at a regulatory affairs session, at a disability insurance conference here organized by JHA, Portland, Maine.

In September 2008, Vermont released a bulletin that would require disability insurers to offer the same benefits for insureds with mental health disorders as they offer for those with comparable physical health problems.

Clayburn said the ACLI fears the mandate could increase the cost of disability coverage 15% to 30% at a time when employers and individuals already are looking for excuses to cut insurance spending.

The ACLI succeeded at persuading the states’ regulators to ease the mandate in some ways, such as pushing back the original Nov. 1 effective date and acknowledging that the mandate would not apply to disability coverage renewals, Clayburn said.

But there are limits on what the ACLI can do, he added. Filing a lawsuit against an insurance department, for example, is expensive and time-consuming, and it may hurt a trade group’s ability to work with an insurance department on other issues, Clayburn said.

Winthrop Cashdollar, executive director of disability insurance at America’s Health Insurance Plans, Washington, who was in the audience, he agreed that suits are to be avoided.

“We have to understand where we can get to,” Cashdollar said.

Sometimes, the best possible outcome is getting a law, regulation or policy to a point where the insurance industry can live with it, even if it is still imperfect, Cashdollar said.