Proposed Law Would Stop Insurance Redlining of Mental Illness

CHICAGO, Feb. 10 A state-wide coalition has proposed Illinois legislation to end health insurance discrimination against severe mental illness. The Illinois Coalition to Stop Insurance Redlining of Mental Illness Coalition, which supports the bill, includes patient advocates, family support groups and mental health professionals. Its members include the Illinois Psychiatric Society, the Mental Health Association in Illinois and the Alliance for the Mentally Ill -- Illinois.

House Bill 111's sponsors -- State Representative Lauren Beth Gash, D-Highland Park, State Senator Thomas Walsh, R-LaGrange Park, and State Representative Judy Erwin, D-Chicago -- will bring it before the General Assembly this spring. Dr. Valerie Raskin, president-elect of the Illinois Psychiatric Society, said many mental disorders involve a chemical imbalance in the brain which modern medicine can treat effectively.

The success rate for clinical depression is 85 percent; for panic disorder and bipolar (manic depressive) illness, 80 percent. By contrast, improvement rates for common heart treatments, such as angioplasty and atherectomy, are only 41 percent and 52 percent. "There's no medical justification to cover illness such as diabetes, asthma, heart disease or cancer and refuse to cover serious mental illness," Raskin said.

The bill's sponsors say other states, such as Maryland and Texas, have shown that equitable coverage is not expensive and reduces other costs, such as emergency room visits. Despite those findings, a 1989 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistic Survey documented that 95 percent of large and medium-sized firms limited outpatient services for mental health problems.

Furthermore, 79 percent of employees in firms that offered mental health benefits had more restrictive hospital coverage for mental illness. The Coalition also released results of a new statewide poll: 69 percent of Illinois voters believe insurance companies discriminate against people with mental illness. Eighty-eight (88) percent said they would favor a state law that would "require insurance companies to provide equal coverage between mental and other medical illnesses." The poll, conducted late last year, also shows that attitudes toward mental illness are changing: 74 percent of respondents said they believe serious mental illness can be treated and 78 percent said it would be cost effective to do so.

SOURCE The Coalition to Stop Insurance Redlining of Mental Illness

CONTACT: Marty Wisler, 312-263-7391, or Mary Jane Bradley-Smith, 630-960-0190, both of the Coalition to Stop Insurance Redlining of Mental Illness

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