The Winston-Salem Journal reports that a new law for insurance companies takes effect across North Carolina this week starting on July 1, 2008, and will be applied whenever a new group insurance policy is signed. The new law states that insurance companies must provide equal coverage to patients with mental illnesses as those with physical ailments and conditions.
This “mental-health parity” measure was passed last year by the NC General Assembly and lists nine common mental conditions that must now be treated equally in the eyes of insurance companies in all regards – from coverage to co-pays. Under this new law, a person diagnosed with major depression, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, or anxiety will have the opportunity for equal treatment as someone with diabetes, heart disease, asthma, or knee problems.
Advocates of the mental-health parity laws have long pressed for these changes in the state of North Carolina. They argue that those with mental illnesses will now seek treatments sooner and before their disease becomes more severe or debilitating.
John Tote, the executive director of the Mental Health Association in North Carolina, said, "The things that we've been preaching -- as far as early intervention, prevention, all those things that we've heard for so long on the physical-health side -- we're now going to get to see them on the mental-health side.”
The nine mental illnesses listed in the new law include: major depression, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder, paranoid or other psychotic disorders, schizoaffective disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, anorexia nervosa and bulimia.
Autism and ADHD are not part of the law and therefore are not guaranteed for equal coverage by insurance companies.
The major argument against the mental-health parity law is that it would generally raise the costs of insurance throughout North Carolina. However, experts say the increases will be minor (around half of a percent) and that it will save money in the long run because those with mental illnesses will have access to preventative care and will get better instead of worse.
"There are costs, obviously, associated with this mandate, but we're anticipating it to be less than half of 1 percent," said Lew Borman, a spokesman for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina.
In others states with similar mandates, large increases in insurance costs have not been seen.