Facebook Twitter



Utah families needn't teeter on the edge of financial disaster because they don't have insurance to cover mental-health care.

Since most insurance plans have moved away from fee-for-service to managed-care plans, the cost of providing mental-health parity coverage is affordable.That's the finding of an actuarial study by Ronald Bachman of the accounting firm Coopers and Librand in Atlanta. Bachman, considered the mental-health actuarial expert in the nation, was hired by the Utah Alliance for the Mentally Ill, the Insurance Parity Network of Utah and the American Psychological Association to study mental-health coverage costs in Utah. His findings were released Monday.

Bachman concluded that each member of an insurance plan would pay an extra $2.69 a month for full mental-health coverage.

"Old myths die hard, and mental-health costs have been a concern," Bachman said. "But in the last five to 10 years, we have seen dramatic changes in treatment and cost. The cost to provide broader, improved benefits is much less. And relative to the cost of a medical plan, (mental health) services are less than 2.5 percent of the cost.

Next week, the Utah Legislature will be asked to support HB193, sponsored by Rep. Brian Allen, R-Salt Lake. The bill establishes mental-health coverage "parity," making it equitable with coverage for medical conditions, according to Marilyn Mitchell of the alliance. The bill doesn't add to the definition of eligible expenses or increase the number of mental health providers. But it does add financial protection so that people have access to mental-health services.

Insurance plans typically cover medical costs like cancer or heart disease up to $1 million, but put strict caps on mental-health care.

Pat Baker knows the financial chaos that causes. She and her husband have four children; the oldest has bipolar disorder and needs ongoing mental health treatment. But insurance benefits didn't last long, and the combination of home equity, personal savings and retirement benefits "have not been enough," she said.

Max Kunzler, whose 5-year-old daughter is hyperactive and has autism, has watched her medical condition - which insurance does cover - deteriorate because the family doesn't have access to mental-health treatment. He dreads the day she might need to be institutionalized - at greater cost than the cost of treating her now.

"You don't cut off a child with asthma. But you could cut off a child with mental illness," Mitchell said. The bill would create separate but equal deductions for mental health, compared to strictly medical care.

Bachman described the $2.69 cost estimate as "conservative" and said it doesn't include the costs of offsets, like savings in medical benefits resulting from mental-health care. States like Minnesota that have embraced parity laws have seen other medical costs go down, he said.

Mitchell emphasized that mental illness has a better rate of successful treatment than many other illnesses that receive generous medical coverage. Treatment helps someone with manic depression about 80 percent of the time, she said. But angioplasty is only successful for 41 percent of patients.

"With mental-health treatment, people do get better. It's money well spent," she said.