Archive for Wednesday, May 9, 2001

The right thing

May 9, 2001


Just like physical ailments, mental illness is real and treatable and health insurance should be required to cover that treatment.

Amid all the financial wrangling that marked the close of the session, the Kansas Legislature took time to do something that a Kansas City lawmaker correctly called "kind and decent." Legislators approved a bill that will help ensure health insurance coverage for people with mental illness.

The bill that passed Saturday will require health insurers to bring some equity to coverage for mental and physical illnesses. Although the measure was referred to during the session as a "mental health parity" bill, it falls short of providing equal coverage for mental illnesses. It limits both in-patient and out-patient care for mental illness to 45 days per year, but it's a step in the right direction.

Legislators almost took a step backward on Sunday when House members concerned about the impact of the bill on insurance companies called for another vote on the measure. The move to overturn the positive vote failed, however, and the mental health parity bill is on its way to the governor.

Many insurance companies already provide coverage for mental illnesses, and requiring all companies to do the same is simply the right thing to do. Even if it results in slightly higher costs for health insurance, it still is the right thing to do. Like physical illnesses, mental illnesses can be treated and controlled. People can recover from or manage their illnesses and be contributing members of society. The small amount that mental health coverage is projected to add to insurance premiums is far outweighed by the benefits of this coverage to state residents.

Mental illness is no more preventable than a host of physical illnesses. In fact, it probably is less preventable than many illnesses associated with lifestyle choices such as smoking or eating high-fat diets. It simply is unconscionable to tell a parent that his or her health insurance will cover the costs of caring for a child with diabetes but won't be required to help a child with autism.

Sen. Sandy Praeger, R-Lawrence, deserves credit for her dogged pursuit of a mental health parity measure. The bill isn't everything she might have wanted but it certainly is more than it looked like the Legislature was willing to approve this year. Praeger championed the bill at some political risk and was instrumental in its passage.

The bill means that insured Kansans will be guaranteed at least some coverage for mental illnesses. Many of them may never use that provision, but, as with coverage for any other illness, it will be there when and if they need it.

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