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November 4, 2005

NAMI Ohio Continues Push for Parity

The 2005 legislative session is nearing adjournment, and NAMI Ohio and its Campaign Partners are working aggressively to advance parity this year or set the stage for a successful effort in 2006.  Following is a report provided by NAMI Ohio officials after a recent Breakfast Roundtable.

ImageAt a Breakfast Roundtable held recently in his district, members of the Coalition discussed access to behavioral health care with Senate President Bill Harris.  The attendees - all Senator Harris' constituents - included 4 behavioral health board directors, 2 family members, a county commissioner, a juvenile court judge, a middle school principal, a bank president, a police chief, a children services board director, a board of health commissioner, and a MH/AoD provider.  Each spoke about access from their own perspective.  It was a very impressive presentation from a very diverse group of advocates. 

Sen. Harris told those in attendance that he is meeting with representatives from the insurance industry soon.  He stated that he plans to ask them to conduct an actuarial study that looks at the long term impact of insurance mandates, including the impact on small business; the savings from early detection and intervention; and the negative and positive impact that mandates would have on the community.  He said he suspects the study will show that there are some pretty substantial savings and, because the Senate is also considering a bill that would require insurance companies to expand the benefits for diabetes detection, used access to diabetes equipment as an example.

He said that if the insurance representatives do not show a willingness to be forthcoming with the information he is requesting, he would show how serious he is by picking one of the bills - diabetes or MH parity - and passing it and then studying the impact.

Harris said that the actuarial study would be conducted by a private firm -- not the state, although he did say that he is working closely with Department of Insurance Superintendent Ann Womer Benjamin on this effort to gather more information.

The Senator plans to meet with the drafters of the report in an open forum and discuss the findings and send them back to gather additional information if necessary.

He acknowledged that he believes parity would be effective in the short term.  He seems to believe, however, that additional mandates will result in employers’ refusal to offer insurance coverage as an employee benefit.  He said he has talked with his colleagues in states that have passed parity and they tell him that their numbers of uninsured are going up.  He wants to know if increasing mandates will have this result in Ohio.

Senator Harris did not commit to any time frames, although he did say he expects the study to be started by the first of the year.

He was asked separately how he anticipates that the study will be paid for and said that there may be a possibility that the Coalition for Healthy Communities would be willing to help share in the cost.  He said that there should be no need for that as he expects the insurance industry to cover the cost of the study. 

At the conclusion of the discussion, Senator Harris pledged to maintain contact with the various representatives and promised to take advantage of the expertise made available to him through this event.

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