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Remove barriers to mental health care


If ever there were an example of the importance of employers getting involved in the legislative process, the drive to expand a 1996 mental health care benefits parity law is it.

While most business groups have a philosophical aversion to benefit mandates, the more far-sighted ones recognized that parity advocates eventually were going to succeed in expanding the act and the groups would have to drop their opposition to have any chance of shaping the legislation.

That is exactly what some employer lobbying groups have done, and the result is a legislative proposal far more palatable to employers than if they stayed out of the debate.

For example, the employer groups strongly lobbied, successfully as it turns out, to strip a provision found in earlier proposals that would have required group health care plans to cover any mental condition. The latest bill, assembled with input from employer groups, leaves it to each health care sponsor to decide which mental health care conditions it will cover--as is the case for other medical conditions.

If an employer does provide coverage, it must be--in terms of employee reimbursement and treatment limitations--on par with coverage for other medical conditions. Fair is fair.

There is no question that such a change would not have been possible had not the business groups gotten involved. Lawmakers and their staffers would have lacked an incentive to negotiate with employers if all they received in return was continued opposition to parity legislation, regardless of how it was structured.

A bigger issue, though, is why most employers continue to provide less coverage for mental health than for other medical conditions.

We think putting up barriers to care, such as through higher cost-sharing arrangements, is penny-wise and pound-foolish. The sooner employees get treatment for mental disorders the sooner they will get better and be more productive. That is in everyone's best interest.