Closing mental health and substance abuse insurance parity - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Closing mental health and substance abuse insurance parity

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Democratic lawmakers say it's time to improve coverage for mental illness and substance abuse.

Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) and Representative Sandy Pasch (D-Whitefish Bay) introduced the Wisconsin Mental Health and Substance Abuse Parity Act. It applies to small business owners with 50 employees or fewer.

The bill doesn't mandate insurance coverage, but it does require group health plans that over the coverage to do so at "parity." In other words, the coverage can not be more expensive than other medical treatments. Often, insurance premiums for mental health or substance abuse are higher, or there's a cap to the treatment. 

Joanne Grassman spoke at this morning's announcement. Her daughter struggled with mental illness. Grassman says she took out a second mortgage to cover treatment because of caps on her insurance.

"Parents should not have to incur a mountain of debt when treatment is available and you pay for health insurance. It's just not right," says Grassman. She says providing treatment results in people not having to live life with a chronic mental illness or with a chronic addiction to substance. They're able to work, care for their families, and do all the things that contribute to a productive society.   

Advocates say the increased cost to premiums is minimal, about two dollars each month. And a study by the Milwaukee Addiction Treatment Initiative showed 65 percent of Milwaukeeans support an increase to ensure everyone has improved access.

Right now, federal law only mandates mental health and substance abuse parity for health plans offered by employers with 51 workers or more.

Supporters hope the bill will go before legislators in January.

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