Revises statutory mental health coverage requirements and requires all health insurers and SHBP to cover treatment for alcoholism and other substance-use disorders under same terms and conditions as for other diseases or illnesses.

NJEA supports S-1253 (Vitale) and has asked that it be amended to include the School Employees Health Benefits Plan (SEHBP)This bill provides for expanded health insurance coverage for treatment of mental and nervous disorders and alcoholism and other substance-use disorders.  It would require health insurers to provide coverage for non-biologically-based disorders included in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) under the same terms and conditions provided for any other sickness under the policy.

Although federal law addresses mental health coverage parity, self-insured, non-federal plans, such as the State Health Benefits Plan and SEHBP are permitted to exempt themselves from this requirement and have done so.  Therefore, these plans have visit and day limits for non-biologically-based mental health conditions.

Yet mental health parity could lead to savings.  In Minnesota, Blue Cross Blue Shield’s insurance premiums fell by 5 percent to 6 percent after one year under the state’s comprehensive parity law, while in North Carolina, expenses for mental health services have decreased since the state enacted parity for state and local employees in 1992.  And the cost of coverage only went up half a percentage point for federal employees when their health plans were required to provide parity coverage in 2001.  (Council of State Governments, http://www.csg.org/knowledgecenter/docs/TIA_MH_Parity.pdf)

Limiting treatment for mental health conditions can have serious ramifications later on.  Eating disorders, anxiety disorder, emotional problems resulting from the heinous crimes of sexual assault or abuse -- these conditions might receive adequate treatment.

Lack of sufficient mental health care might be a contributing factor to the recent senseless tragedies in Connecticut and Colorado of which we are all aware.  And limits on mental health coverage now, when both school employees and students might find themselves “collateral mental health victims” is the wrong thing to do.

NJEA urges you to vote “yes” on this bill.