Thursday, October 23, 2008

Missouri mental health advocates hail federal parity legislation

Advocates and health professionals in Missouri are hailing a mental health parity bill signed into law Oct. 3 as part of the federal government's economic bailout legislation. The mental health bill requires that health insurance firms extend coverage to treatment of mental health and substance abuse.
"Advocates and families of mental health patients had been pressing for this for many, many years," said Bob Bax, director of public affairs at the Missouri Department of Mental Health. "It is only fair that mental illnesses is covered the same way as physical illnesses are covered."
With the federal law, mental health conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and substance abuse will get the same coverage as other physical illnesses, such as heart diseases and high blood pressure. The law will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2010.
Missouri's latest mental health parity bill was passed in 2004, but it does not require insurance plans to cover substance abuse, Bax said
"It is also an issue of integrating both physical and mental illnesses. For so long, the medical sector has separated the mental and physical illnesses," Bax said.
The bill has been the main legislative focus for National Alliance on Mental Illness for years.
"Since most insurance is purchased by employers, this has meant that the employer is making decisions about whether their employees and their families receive mental health treatment or not," said Tim Harlan, a former state representative who belongs to National Alliance on Mental Illness — Columbia.

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