The House voted last week to require health insurance companies to provide equal coverage for mental and physical health on policies that cover both types of illness. This is heralded as a big step forward by mental health advocates, but it will also place a strain on health insurance carriers, policy-holders who pay their own premiums, and employers who pay for their employees’ coverage.
In Colorado, a lot of the health insurance policies we deal with typically offer limited coverage for mental health treatment, sometimes covering 50% of the cost after the deductible, as opposed to 80% of the costs for a physical illness or injury. If they have to bump the coverage up to an equal footing with other treatments, it’s hard to see how it will happen without an increase in premiums. Premiums that are ever-increasing even without new mandates added to the mix.
Critics of the bill have focused on the extremely broad range of mental health disorders that health insurance companies would have to treat just like any other illness. Proponents of the bill claim that providing equal coverage for mental and physical illness would help remove the stigma associated with mental illness, and would expand access to treatment for people who need it.
Overall, I lean towards being in favor of this bill. The focus of health insurance should be to provide as much coverage as possible for a wide range of illnesses. Once the deductible has been met on a health insurance policy, the insureds should be able to feel confident that they can proceed with their health care knowing that they will not be bankrupting themselves in the process.
In addition, most health insurance carriers already pay for pharmaceuticals used to treat mental health issues. Anti-depressants are one of the most common prescriptions cited when our clients describe their medical history. And most of the time health insurance is footing the bill. The same health insurance that may or may not pay for actual mental health therapy. If they’re willing to pay for mental health medications it makes sense to also pay for more intensive therapy that might actually get to the root of the problem and look for solutions, rather than just masking the symptoms.
BUT… I also see that this legislation could end up being a well-intentioned plan that ultimately just results in higher premiums, fewer people able to afford health insurance, and fewer employers offering health insurance to their employees. It doesn’t do much good to have great mental health coverage if nobody can afford the policies.