August 2010 E-Newsletter
MENTAL HEALTH PARITY
For years, I’ve been fighting to end the discrimination in health benefits between mental and physical illnesses. Too many people and their families suffer needlessly because they were denied coverage for treatment for their mental disorders or substance abuse addictions. Mental illness alone costs American businesses $23 billion annually in lost worker days.
Half of those Americans who reported being unable to obtain treatment for their mental disorder, 5.5 million people, cited cost or insurance issues as a barrier. As a consequence, many of them fall into the counties’ indigent health care pool, the emergency rooms, or wind up in jails and prisons -- alternatives that are borne by taxpayers.
Many health plans don’t cover mental disorders and others impose strict monetary limits. We wouldn’t accept health coverage that limits us to one heart bypass operation or three treatments of radiation for cancer. This form of discrimination has bankrupted families and increased taxpayer costs -- $1.8 billion alone in police, court, and incarceration expenses.
For the last four years, I have introduced legislation requiring health insurers to treat and cover mental illnesses and substance abuse addictions equitable to the coverage provided for other medical illnesses. Each time, I have refined the bill, changing it, to satisfy the concerns of legislators and administrators.
Three times, iterations of this bill have reached the Governor’s desk only to be vetoed. Will it happen a fourth time? I hope not. I am more than willing to work with the Governor on this important piece of legislation.
In January, I introduced Assembly Bill 1600, the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Parity Act. I believe it stands a good chance of being approved by the Legislature.
Some allege AB 1600 will cost the state money. They are dead wrong. AB 1600 will not cost the state’s General Fund a dime. I say so and so does the non-partisan California Health Benefits Review Program as well as the California Department of Finance.
Under AB 1600, the premium cost to an enrollee amounts to a mere eight to 27 cents per month. In exchange, the enrollee enjoys a 31 percent decrease in out-of-pocket deductibles and co-payments.
But AB 1600 goes a step further: It fills in the coverage gaps left by the federal Wellstone-Domenici Mental Health Parity Act of 2008.
Unlike the federal law, my legislation mandates employer group health plans provide coverage to businesses with 50 workers or less. My bill also defines the mental disorders that must be treated.
If you believe this bill is worthy of your support, please click here for a letter you can send to the Governor, urging him to support AB 1600.
RESTORING POWER MADE EASIER
Last month, the California Public Utilities Commission took action to provide greater protection for PG&E consumers who have failed to pay their power bills during these tough times.
The new rules call for PG&E to give customers advanced warning if their power is scheduled to be terminated. The utility must also allow customers at least three months to repay their delinquent bills.
If you missed the March 2 Cal Grant deadline AND you plan to attend a community college in the fall, you have until Sept. 2 to apply. But hurry, the number of Cal Grant awards is limited to 11,250 statewide. Click here for more information.