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A worthwhile push for parity in health coverage

Oklahoma lawmakers have thus far given solid support to a bill requiring that health care coverage for mental illness be on par with what’s mandated by federal law. Here’s hoping that backing continues.

Congress passed a law in 2008 prohibiting discriminatory insurance coverage for people with mental health and substance abuse disorders. However, as The Oklahoman’s Adam Kemp wrote Sunday, advocates say enforcement is lacking, which provides insurers with wiggle room to deny coverage.

Present Trump’s commission on the nation’s opioid crisis noted this problem in 2017, saying, “The health insurers are not following the federal law requiring parity in the reimbursement for mental health and addiction.”

This push is important in Oklahoma and across the country. Here, the rate of adults with serious mental illnesses is among the highest in the United States, contributing to the high incarceration rate. Oklahoma’s suicide rate has ranked among the 10 worst nationally.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 47,000 Americans died by suicide in 2017 and more than 17.3 million adults suffered at least one major depressive episode. From 2008 to 2016, the U.S. suicide rate increased 16%.

Yet getting insurance companies to pay for mental health treatment can be a challenge. According to the Kennedy Forum, which advocates for parity legislation, just one in three patients diagnosed with a serious mental illness receives minimally adequate treatment.

The National Alliance of Mental Illness notes that in a survey of more than 1,200 people, more than 30% saw their claims denied, delayed or result in limited coverage for mental health and substance abuse services.

Kemp highlighted an Oklahoma woman whose insurance company initially rejected her claim for treatment for her son, who was fighting an addiction to cocaine and anti-anxiety medication. Coverage was provided only after a lengthy fight that included a complaint with the state insurance commissioner. “No family should have to go through what my family went through,” she said.

Senate Bill 1718 is designed to provide more health coverage parity. The bill, which made it through two Senate committees without a “no” vote, would require insurance companies to treat mental health disorders with the same coverage options as diseases such as cancer or diabetes.

“This is kind of where cancer was a lot of years ago when the coverage wasn’t happening. Today, it’s just standard coverage,” Sen. John Haste, R-Broken Arrow, the Senate co-author of SB 1718, told Kemp. “I think it’s very important that we do this to help those that truly are dealing with mental health. I think it’s one of those that could actually save lives.”

The title on SB 1718 has been stricken, which means revisions are likely. The goal should be a bill that doesn’t leave consumers guessing as to whether they’ll be covered when the time comes to help themselves or loved ones who face the brain disease that is mental illness.

The Oklahoman Editorial Board

The Oklahoman Editorial Board consists of Kelly Dyer Fry, Publisher, Editor and Vice President of News; Owen Canfield, Opinion Editor; and Ray Carter, Chief Editorial Writer.. To submit a letter to the editor, go to this page or email... Read more ›

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