Pass mental health parity


ONE issue the Ohio General Assembly should act favorably on by the time it wraps up its session this week or next is mental health parity legislation.

A bill passed last February by the House reportedly stands at least a fighting chance in the Senate if - and it's a major league if - Governor Taft and Senate President Doug White drop their opposition.

For those unfamiliar with legislative lingo, the parity bill would require that health insurance policies cover major mental illnesses the same way they do any other medical condition. These would include such debilitating maladies as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and severe depression.

This issue has been championed, often as a lonely personal struggle, by Rep. Lynn Olman, of Maumee, who leaves office because of term limits when the legislative session ends.

But the General Assembly should not pass the bill simply as a going-away gift to Mr. Olman. It should act because it's the right thing to do for the 300,000 or so Ohioans who suffer from mental illnesses and, mostly, lack insurance coverage for treatment.

So far, the legislation has been held hostage in a Senate committee by the powerful insurance industry, which opposes what it claims would be a costly mandate, one that would raise the already skyrocketing cost of health insurance.

That argument, however, ignores experience in 34 states which already have parity laws indicating that insurance premiums would rise by 1 percent or less.

Lest it become bogged down by related controversies, the House-passed bill would not mandate insurance coverage for drug and alcohol addiction treatment. In short, it's a clean bill, the type of legislation that will greatly benefit tens of thousands of Ohioans without costing insurers or employers, who pay for most insurance, a significant amount of money.

Any cost, moreover, would be far outweighed by limiting the monumental expense to society that comes from leaving mental illness untreated - personal anguish, lost time from jobs, disability, and death.

Indeed, Mr. Olman knows the cost full well. His brother, Kurt, committed suicide 15 years ago after suffering from depression. But this bill is not about one legislator, it's about who calls the shots in Columbus. Right now, the chains shackling this measure are in the grip of the insurance industry and chamber of commerce, who routinely spout misleading information in support of their position.

These forces also have hog-tied Senate President White and Governor Taft, who has called for a moratorium on business mandates and has refused to even meet with Mr. Olman to discuss freeing the bill for a vote. In view of the value placed on mental health care expressed often by Mr. Taft's wife, Hope, it's possible that pillow talk in the governor's mansion is pretty heated these days.

The true good the governor and General Assembly could do for Ohioans in enacting a mental health parity law would far outweigh many of the comparatively petty concerns the legislature is addressing in its final days. Let's hope the men and women we send to Columbus to represent us understand what's at stake and act accordingly.