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Calif. bill may set mental health disability cover standards

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Members of the California Assembly have voted 57-12 to approve a bill that could require state-regulated short-term disability insurance policies to provide coverage for disability caused by severe mental illness.

The state Senate Insurance Committee is now considering the measure, Assembly Bill 402.

The A.B. 402 coverage mandate would apply to disability income insurance policies.

 The bill would create a definition of “severe mental illness” that would include schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, major depressive order, postpartum depression, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, pervasive developmental disorder, autism, anorexia nervos and bulimia nervosa.

California already requires health insurers and health care service plans to provide the same coverage for severe mental illnesses that they provide for other health problems.

The bill would take effect Jan. 1, 2014.

Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, the lawmaker who introduced the bill, is a member of the Assembly Health Committee.

Severe mental illness “can be as disabling and debilitating as physical conditions,” Ammiano said in a statement.

Paul Riches, an Assembly Insurance Committee analyst, noted in an analysis that the bill is written in such a way that complying with it would require every insurer in the disability income insurance market to revise their policies and submit the revised policies to the California Department of Insurance for review.

“It is common for the department to take years to review and approve revised policies,” Riches said. “Accordingly, the author may wish to consider delaying implementation of this bill to allow insurers time to have their revised policies reviewed and approved by the department.”

When Riches prepared his analysis, the only interest group that had expressed an opinion about A.B. 402 was the California Psychological Association. The association said it supported the bill.

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