Printed in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Jan. 9, 2010.
In addition to the pork included in the U.S. Congress' bailout package for Wall Street back in 2008, the federal legislation also included a long-needed provision that would outlaw health insurance discrimination against Americans with mental health and substance-abuse conditions in employer-sponsored health plans. Although the legislation was signed into law under President George W. Bush, the full ramifications are still years away.
In the meantime, we think the Iowa Legislature not only should be ensuring that the state is in compliance with the new law, but also should be building on the momentum of the federal legislations and be working to further de-stigmatize mental illness.
We were disappointed last year when the Legislature failed to pass legislation that would have required insurance plans to provide coverage for mental health conditions at the same rates and on the same terms that are associated with physical conditions. The bill that made it the furthest in the legislative process would have expanded the Iowa Code's definition of "mental health condition" to include any condition or disorder involving mental illness or alcohol or substance abuse that is consistent with the diagnostic categories listed in the most recent version of the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders."
Iowa does have an existing mental health parity law, but the law only includes a limited list of mental health conditions and doesn't include substance abuse at all. The changes proposed in the new legislation would mean that future Legislatures won't have to repeatedly tweak the law to include new categories of mental illnesses. Instead, the law would the list of conditions to be defined by the mental health professionals.
With the tragic examples of mental illness that have plagued Iowa City in recent years -- and with the economic downturn's ability to destabilize people emotionally as well as financially -- it's long past time for the Iowa Legislature to expand its provisions for mental health parity and give average Iowans better access to mental health services.