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Reconsider mental-illness bill

The Legislature has unwisely delayed something it needs to do - pass a bill that provides adequate coverage for mental illness.

Because a House committee by a 5-4 vote killed a bill that would have provided that coverage, mental health patients once again will be denied coverage that those with other illnesses routinely receive.Simply put, treating the brain is as important as treating a foot or another part of the body.

As the sponsor of the bill, Rep. Brian Allen, R-Salt Lake, noted, the lack of parity on mental health coverage amounts to discrimination. And it's a form of discrimination that those with mental illnesses have suffered far too long.

Allen is hoping to revive the bill and get it to the House floor for debate. How unfortunate that the House committee has put him and the public in that position.

Allen is to be lauded for his efforts to keep the issue before his colleagues. It marked the second time in two years he had filed the measure, and the second time it had been killed. He needs to file it again next year. At some point it will pass as lawmakers become more sensitive to the needs of the community.

His bill would require coverage for seven mental illnesses, all of which Allen said are known to be "biologically based." They include schizophrenia, bipolar affective disorders, major depression and obsessive-compulsive disorders.

Lobbyists representing small businesses and insurance companies unfortunately convinced enough members of the House Health and Human Services Standing Committee that passing the measure would increase costs to the point where some small businesses would have to cancel coverage altogether.

Studies indicate otherwise. One found that Utahns would have to pay only an additional $2.69 per month for full mental-health coverage. Another study of public-employee health plans in the Midwest showed that removing a $25,000 annual limit on mental-health benefits would raise employers' group insurance cost by only $1 per employee per year. The maximum expanded coverage would raise employers' costs by no more than $7 a year per employee.

Regardless of differing opinions about cost, mental illness is a problem that needs to be faced. Failure to do so will continue to extract huge costs - from employers due to lost productivity and from families burdened with providing constant care. There also are broader social costs, as mental illness is the impetus behind some criminal behavior and much homelessness.

That is why Allen's bill not only needs to be seriously considered, but passed.