A celebration would be premature, but an end-of-session agreement between the state Senate and Assembly has brought New York an important step closer to requiring that mental illness get the same insurance protection afforded physical illnesses.
For more than four years, advocates have pushed for passage of Timothy's Law, insurance-parity legislation named for 12-year-old Timothy O'Clair, a Schenectady boy who committed suicide in 2001 after his parents were forced to give up custody so he could qualify for state-paid mental-health treatment. The family's insurance coverage did not cover his needs.
While this is indeed a tragic situation, one has to ask why the parents did not take responsibility and pay for the needed treatment. Several states have enacted so-called mental health parity laws that require carriers to cover mental illness as any other disease. Every time new mandates appear rates increase.
The boy's father, Tom O'Clair, heralded the agreement reached late Friday by the two houses of the state Legislature. The legislation requires health-insurance policies to provide at least 30 inpatient and 20 outpatient visits for all mental-health treatment, lowering co-pays that can now be excessive for mental-health treatment. The bill lists specific adult and childhood disorders that would receive unlimited benefits.
The measure has consistently gotten strong support in the Assembly. What has stopped it has been the Senate's concern that the extra insurance cost would put an unacceptable burden on small businesses. The agreement calls for the state to cover the extra cost for businesses with 50 or fewer employees.
At least the cost factor has been considered. Of course the question is, how valid are the assumptions?
Most disappointing for the advocates, the legislation does not cover addictions
At least there are some attempts to curb costs.