Mental Health Parity Bill Lands On Governor’s Desk

August 26, 2010
Contact: Rodney Foo @ (408) 282-8920
UCLA Study Indicates 5 million Californians Need Mental Health Support

Assembly Bill 1600, a cost-saving mental health and substance abuse parity bill that will make treatment affordable for millions of Californians, was approved Thursday by the Legislature.

The bill -- introduced by Assemblymember Jim Beall -- now goes to the Governor’s office.

“Now is the time for this bill to become law,’’ Beall said. “The bad economy has put working families under mounting pressure. They are worrying night and day about their jobs and how they are going to pay the mortgage or rent.

“For people to lead productive lives, they need just as much help for their mental well-being as they do for their physical well-being. AB 1600 accomplishes that mission.’’

AB 1600, which cleared the Assembly today, requires health insurers to furnish coverage for mental disorders and substance abuse equivalent to the coverage already provided for physical illnesses and injuries.

Passage of the bill follows the July release of a UCLA study that found one in five Californians saying they needed help for a mental health or emotional problem.

The bill also closes loopholes in federal parity legislation. AB 1600 defines the mental disorders that must be treated and requires employer group health plans to provide coverage to businesses with 50 workers or less – two elements not addressed in the Wellstone-Domenici parity act.

AB 1600 will have no impact on the state’s general fund, a finding shared by the state Department of Finance and the non-partisan California Health Benefits Review Program.

The bill also saves taxpayers money: For every dollar spend on mental health services, there is a $2 savings in hospital and jail costs, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Under AB 1600, the premium costs per enrollee would be roughly 25 cents or less per month. In exchange, the enrollee gets a 31 percent decrease in out-of-pocket deductibles and co-payments.

In the previous three years, the Governor vetoed similar versions of AB 1600, bills that would have ended the discrimination in health benefits coverage between mental disorders and physical illnesses.