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Congress Debates Equal Coverage for Addiction and Mental Illness

November 1, 2007

New York, NY — Addiction and mental illness impact an estimated one in ten New York residents and, until now, treatment for these conditions was generally not covered by most insurance companies. But Congress is working to change that, with the "Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act" (HR1424). Representative Carolyn McCarthy, of New York's 4th District, is among the bill's supporters.

"Unfortunately, you know, there is probably not a family across this nation that doesn't have someone, or know someone, who has some sort of mental illness. Yes, there's still a stigma out there, but there should not be. It's an illness, and it should be treated as such."

The Wellstone Act would require insurance companies to provide coverage for mental health-related treatment. The U.S. Senate has passed its own measure (S558) but, according to William Moyers, author of the book "Broken: My Story of Addiction and Redemption," it falls short in terms of providing coverage.

"It will leave the insurance companies with too much 'wiggle room' and, as we know, insurance companies typically are reluctant to provide treatment for addiction to alcohol and other drugs."

John Coppola, executive director of Albany-based Alcohol and Substance Abuse Providers says some large employers have opted to pay for mental health treatment for workers, and have found it to be cost-effective.

"In the short run, yes, there's a small increase in premium, but on the backside, it's a significant benefit to the company -- better workforce, healthier, happier, more productive, et cetera."

The Wellstone Act is opposed by insurance companies; they argue it will burden small businesses and cost too much. Rep. McCarthy counters that not providing treatment costs a lot more when people miss work, and/or end up in drunk-driving accidents or in jail.

Michael Clifford/John Robinson, Public News Service - NY