Assembly Approves Beall's Bills to Widen Health Coverage for Mental Illness, Addiction, and Autism Disorders

January 26, 2012

AB 154 and AB 171 Advance to Senate

SACRAMENTO – Two bills introduced by Assemblymember Jim Beall to ensure millions of Californians will be able to get therapies and treatment covered by their health plans for mental illness, substance abuse health were approved today by the Assembly.

"AB 154 and AB 171 are the fiscally and morally responsible things to do," Beall said. "Severe mental conditions should be treated the same as a physical illness or injury.

"Both bills can end private insurers’ discriminatory practice of routinely denying coverage for mental illness, addictions, and autism disorders. And both bills will stop private insurers from shifting their responsibilities and costs for treatment onto the taxpayer and our prisons, our court system, our schools, and regional centers.

"About one-fourth of California's prison and jail inmates have been diagnosed with mental illness. If they could have gotten affordable treatment, I believe many of them would not be behind bars with taxpayers footing the bill for their incarceration and their treatment."

Assembly Bill 154, the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Parity Act, requires private health insurers and health plans to cover the diagnosis and medically necessary treatment of substance abuse disorders and mental illnesses of a person of any age, with specified exceptions. The bill would increase premium for an enrollee by six to 61cents per month.

California passed a groundbreaking mental health parity law in 1999. In 2010, the federal mental health parity law went into effect after being approved by Congress and signed by the President in 2008. Assembly Bill 154 updates California’s statute to bring it in compliance with the federal government and fills the gaps in service not addressed in the federal law.

Assembly Bill 171 clarifies that insurers and health plans may not deny coverage to children and adults with autism or pervasive developmental disorders for medically necessary, basic healthcare services—including speech, occupational, and physical therapy. AB 171 will complete the process of ending insurance discrimination against people with autism and related disorders that was begun last year under SB 946, legislation that addressed behavioral health treatments for these individuals.

Contact: Rodney Foo (408) 282-8920