February 27, 2006

Wyoming debates Mental Health Insurance

The Wyoming Tribune-Eagle covered a debate on mental health insurance coverage that is taking place in the state capital this week.

Senators hotly debated a mandate Monday that would require all health insurance sold in Wyoming to include coverage for mental illness at the same level as coverage for physical illness.

The body was divided between those who thought Senate File 14 would save money and reduce illness in the long run and those who thought it would raise costs, burden small businesses and increase the number of uninsured Wyomingites.

In the end, the Senate passed the measure out of the Committee of the Whole 18-11, with one senator absent, which means the bill will continue for a second reading.

The bill restricts the mental illnesses required to be covered to a list of relatively severe disorders -- schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar affective disorder, major depressive disorder, specific obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder and autism.

The bill deals primarily with companies with fewer than 50 employees, since in 1996 Congress passed a national mental health insurance parity act that applies to employers with more than that number.

Sen. Ken Decaria, D-Evanston, argued that such a directive would help reduce cost-shifting -- or the transference of unpaid debt by health-care providers to cost increases for those who are insured -- because people with coverage would be treated earlier, more cheaply and more effectively.

Decaria said studies indicate that health insurance costs would only increase about 1 percent, and that 34 other states have some form of mental health insurance parity, including all of Wyoming's neighbors except Idaho.

One senator summarized by saying "This is one of those situations, folks, where you can pay now or you can pay later," Schiffer said. If people don't get help, he said, the next stop for many will be jail, the county hospital or the state hospital, where it's much more expensive to treat mental illness."

See Full story at: http://www.wyomingnews.com


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