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House hears public opinion on mental-parity bill

February 04, 2002
By: Kathryn Handley
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - About 60 people filled the room Monday night as Rep. Vicky Riback Wilson, D-Columbia, presented her mental health parity bill to the House Critical Issues Committee.

People ranging from church officials to psychiatrists voiced support for the proposal, which would include mental health coverage with general health policies, instead of separately.

"We have people who are falling through the cracks," psychiatrist Lynne Moritz said. "The largest mental health facility in the country is currently the Los Angeles county jail."

Wilson said providing mental-health parity is scientifically sound, humane and cost effective.

"Because it is identifiable, definable, and treatable, it is like other forms of illness and therefore should be covered in the same way under our insurance laws," she said.

In states that have implemented similar plans there has been a 30-cent to $1 increase in monthly premiums per person, she said.

Wilson said that her proposal would save businesses and state money in the long run by increasing worker productivity. Wilson cited depression as the No. 1 reason for worker absence.

Committee member Rep. Matt Bartle, R-Lee's Summit, said he was not convinced. "If this is going to save so much money, why isn't the market already doing it?" he asked Wilson.

Wilson said companies do not look into the cost-effectiveness of providing mental-health insurance because of the negative stigma associated with mental illnesses.

Thirty-two states, including Missouri, currently have some type of mental-health parity. But advocates of the bill said the existing policy is insufficient.

The bill would also eliminate lifetime limits for people with drug and alcohol addictions, allowing them to enter rehabilitation programs as many times as needed.

Bartle said he thinks that section of the bill will cause the most problems in gaining House approval.

The committee is scheduled to vote on the bill Wednesday morning.