Rep. Lou Lang Welcomes Quinn Approval of Mental Health Parity Law, But Criticizes Budget Cuts
(Skokie, IL) — August 23, 2011. Governor Pat Quinn last week signed legislation that requires insurance companies to provide insurance parity for both mental health care and substance abuse treatment, drawing praise from the measure’s chief legislative champion, who also noted that funding concerns linger.
“No one should be forced to forgo critical mental health care because of where they live or because their insurance charges more for the necessary treatment,” said Quinn.
The legislation, House Bill 1530, sponsored by State Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie) and State Senator Willie Delgado (D-Chicago), prevents insurers from imposing additional barriers within the policy – such as financial requirements, treatment limitations, lifetime limits or annual limits – to treatments for mental, emotional, nervous and substance abuse disorders if no such stipulations exist for other health conditions.
“[This law] will increase equality throughout the state and advance our goal to improve the health of all Illinois residents,” said Quinn during a ceremony at the Alexian Brothers Center for Mental Health in Arlington Heights on Thursday.
The new Illinois new law exceeds the requirements of the recently-enacted federal mental health parity law, according to Lang.
“Federal enforcement is a more remote, lighter touch, relying on telephone calls and mail,” said Lang.
“By matching state law to the federal standards, the Illinois Insurance Department can enforce the federal standards more aggressively than the federal government could by virtue of state face-to-face enforcement activities.”
Lang noted that neither the federal nor state law mandate mental health insurance as defined benefit, but require mental health coverage if other health benefits are offered.
“The federal law does not require coverage for mental and emotional disorders, but does require parity if such coverage is offered for hospital or medical treatment,” said Lang.
Despite the governor’s signature on this legislation, Lang, the former Chairman of the House Committee on Mental Health Reform, expressed concern that Quinn’s effort to deeply cut funding for both mental health and substance abuse treatment services in this year’s budget undermines the coherence of any state strategy to improve behavioral health care in Illinois.
“Of course, I welcome the governor’s signature on the mental health parity bill,” said Lang. “But we can’t slash funding for behavioral health care and then turn around and pat ourselves on the back and claim we’re helping the mentally ill.”
In the FY 2012 budget, Quinn proposed cutting $33 million from mental health director services and $63 million from substance abuse treatment, eliminating services for nearly 75,000 individuals.
“We have to pursue coherent behavioral health care strategy both on the substance and on the money,” said Lang.