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"Mind" the Details, Floridians Could Slip Through the Loopholes

November 3, 2008

Health care is health care, whether it's for the heart, the body - or the mind. The nation's new "Mental Health Parity Act" requires insurance companies to cover mental illnesses and disorders as they would any other health issue. It gained support because suicide is a leading cause of death, and because one family in five is touched by mental illness.

Dr. Ed Homan, a Florida state representative, has authored a similar bill in his state because, he says, the new nationwide law is not a complete cure for the nation's mental health treatment ills. He explains it only applies to insurance offered through businesses with more than 50 employees, and points to other loopholes as well.

"The bill could be a detriment; we'll have to wait and see what happens. The bill only covers 20 percent of the work force, and it only covers them if the employer wants to provide it. There's no hook that makes anybody do anything."

Homan says that, with the new year, a companion bill could be crafted by Congress to reach more of the 113 million Americans battling mental illness. Homan will introduce his version of a mental health parity bill next session. He says there's an underlying goal in requiring mental illnesses to be treated like any other health issue: lifting the stigma.

"If people could just get treatment... If we somehow could get past the stigma of mental health as being a 'not to be talked about' disease, we'd realize, 'Well, a lot of people have it.'"

Some insurance companies and businesses do not support mental health insurance coverage, saying it will raise the price of premiums for everyone. However, federal statistics show that requiring insurance companies to cover mental conditions will mean an increase in premiums of less than one percent.

Jim Akin with the National Association of Social Workers in Florida says that's a small investment for big returns.

"In the long run, the money would be saved through less intensive care for people who go over the edge, less in law enforcement and putting people into jails, and really high, intensive substance and alcohol treatment."

Gina Presson/Chris Thomas, Public News Service - FL