Saturday, April 26, 2003

Legislature set to pass
mental health parity bill

A proposal by Gov. Linda Lingle to make permanent the law requiring insurance companies to treat mental illness the same as physical illnesses in benefit packages appears headed for passage in the state Legislature.

A House-Senate conference committee reached a compromise yesterday on the mental health parity bill. Its approval is expected when each house casts final votes on all proposed legislation next week.

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The current law mandating mental health parity was enacted in 1999 with an expiration date of June 30 this year.

Lingle testified in favor of the measure four times, at times emotionally describing her mother's battle with mental illness and its effect on her family.

Her proposal, which was approved by the Senate, also called for expanding the definition of mental illness to include coverage for other conditions such as delusional disorder, obsessive-compulsive behavior, bipolar disorder types I and II, major depression and dissociative disorder.

The agreement reached yesterday clarifies the definition of serious mental illness to include schizophrenia, schizo-affective disorder and bipolar types I and II.

House lawmakers balked at the Senate proposal, arguing that the expanded definition amounted to new illnesses the Legislature was requiring insurers to cover and that a review of their impact to benefit plans was needed first.

Senate Health Chairwoman Rosalyn Baker (D, Honokohau-Makena) said her members moved closer to the House position to avoid having the measure fall through completely.

"It's important to us to make sure that we don't lose the gains that we have and that these provisions don't sunset," she said.

Opponents of the measure included the Hawaii Medical Service Association and Kaiser Permanente, the state's two largest insurers, who argued that benefit plans already provide sufficient coverage and that adding illnesses to the definition would increase costs for members.


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