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Mental Health Advocates: Big WI Health Insurance Gap

October 15, 2009

MADISON, Wisc. - When it comes to what health insurance companies cover in Wisconsin, a gap leaves more than 700,000 residents in limbo. That gap involves coverage for mental illness and addiction, which many health insurers cover at a much lower level than other illnesses.

A federal parity bill became law a year ago, but exempts group plans that cover fewer than 50 people. Marc Herstand, executive director of the National Association of Social Workers, says a bill is being introduced in Wisconsin to close that gap because it's a serious problem.

"Many families have become bankrupt from this. They've had to mortgage their homes; they've used up their college expenses or gone without care."

The Wisconsin legislation would require all group health plans that are not covered by the federal law to provide mental health and substance abuse disorder benefits at the same level of coverage as for any other illness.

Mental illness is as real and medically treatable as many other conditions that insurance companies do fully cover, Herstand adds.

"We know today that mental illness and substance abuse are illnesses, and they're very treatable - in fact, in many cases even more treatable than some of the physical illnesses."

The bill has been drafted and is currently attracting sponsors in the legislature.

Glen Gardner, Public News Service - WI