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Published: Saturday, 12/30/2006

Taft signs expansion of health coverage

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS Two years after Gov. Bob Taft stifled Lynn Olman s bill requiring insurers to cover mental illness like any other medical ailment, the former state representative yesterday received a standing ovation from the governor just before signing a similar law.

Mr. Taft, who had opposed new mandates for health-insurance coverage, said he underwent a conversion after being heavily lobbied by everyone from mental health patients to first lady Hope Taft and seeing a softening in opposition from the business community.

I just learned a lot more about the issue in terms of the cost of untreated mental illness [and] the effectiveness of treatment to help people lead normal productive lives in our society, he said. I learned as I went along, and I understood that the benefits of this bill greatly outweigh whatever minimal increased costs would occur in terms of health insurance.

Mr. Olman two years ago emotionally told his colleagues on the House floor about the suicide of his brother. The House approved the measure, but it ran into a brick wall in the Senate, where leadership agreed to honor Mr. Taft s moratorium on new benefits.

Mr. Olman, forced out of the House by term limits at the end of 2004, agreed that information over time helped bring around the governor. But Mr. Olman also suggested that November s election, which will usher Democrat and former prison psychologist Ted Strickland into the governor s mansion, may have had something to do with it.

A number of dynamics have changed, not the least of which was the election of a new governor who happens to be supportive of mental health parity, said the Maumee Republican and insurance agent. I think it was at that point ... that the business community saw the handwriting on the wall ... and probably thought their chances were much better with the legislation that we had drafted over the years.

Not everyone was converted.

During his eight years as governor, Bob Taft has stood on the side of Ohio s small-business owners in their efforts to create new jobs and grow Ohio s economy, said Ty Pine, Ohio director of the National Federation of Independent Business.

By signing Senate Bill 116 today, he has dealt a disappointing blow to small-business owners who are already struggling to provide any level of coverage and who will now face yet another hurdle in their efforts to provide basic health-care benefits to their employees, he said.

Mr. Pine said the mandate on policies issued by private insurers doesn t apply to large, self-insured companies, government, and other public employers.

The bill would allow insurers to opt out if they can prove the additional coverage has increased premiums by at least 1 percent.

Supporters of the law said there have been no significant cost increases in other states with mental health parity laws and that treatment has reduced costs to business in terms of recovering sick days previously lost to depression or other mental illnesses.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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