Archive for Saturday, March 31, 2001

Mental-illness coverage doesn’t win enough votes

March 31, 2001

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— The normal rumble of House debate faded Friday as members shared stories, some about families of friends, of mental illnesses.

Rep. Dale Swenson, a Wichita Republican, showed a picture of a woman named Kathy, who shot herself because she heard a voice in her head saying heaven was beautiful.

Rep. Melany Barnes, D-Wichita, told of her mother's clinical depression and the struggle to pay for medication that kept her suicidal thoughts away.

Democratic Rep. Nancy Kirk of Topeka couldn't even speak as she fought back tears.

All three spoke in support of a bill to require insurance companies to provide equal coverage for mental and physical illnesses.

Although many members were moved to tears, the chamber voted 65-56 against sending mental health legislation to Gov. Bill Graves.

Current state law requires insurance companies to cover the first $100 of mental illness treatment, 80 percent of the next $100, and 50 percent of any remaining amount, up to $1,840. Coverage is capped at $7,500 in a policyholder's lifetime.

However, Rep. Bob Tomlinson, R-Roeland Park, said mandating the mental illness coverage would raise insurance costs for all Kansans and could leave some without insurance.

Tomlinson backed a bill requiring that insurance companies offer mental illness coverage but letting employers choose whether to buy it for their employees. That bill was approved 123-0 on Friday.

Critics, including Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, said the employer option meant many Kansans would be left without mental illness coverage.

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