Mental Health Parity Legislation Sponsored By Senator Flanagan Passes Senate

John J. Flanagan

September 15, 2006

In a landmark vote, the New York State Senate today voted to provide parity in insurance coverage for mental illnesses. The unanimous vote on "Timothy’s Law", which was sponsored by Senator John Flanagan (2nd Senate District), reflects an agreement with the New York State Assembly.

"Mental illness can affect anyone at any time and we have a responsibility to ensure that those affected have proper access to care and treatment when it is needed. For far too long, these types of medical conditions have been unfairly stigmatized and I am hopeful that this legislation will go a long way in creating greater awareness, compassion and equality," stated Senator Flanagan. "I am proud to have joined my colleagues in sponsoring and passing this important legislation."

Named in honor of 12-year-old Timothy O'Clair of Rotterdam, who sadly took his own life in 2001 after repeated bouts of depression, the legislation would require insurance companies to cover most mental illnesses in a manner comparable to their coverage of medical care. It would also require coverage for a broad range of mental illnesses and conditions specifically related to children.

"Today is a landmark day for New Yorkers suffering with mental illness and disorders," said Tom O’Clair, Timothy's father. "It’s a wonderful testament to what the Legislature can accomplish when they work together and a heartfelt tribute to Timothy. I thank the Senate and look forward to the Assembly’s return so they can pass it as well."

Timothy's Law would include the following provisions:

COVERAGE FOR TREATMENT OF MENTAL ILLNESSES - The agreement would require insurance companies to cover 30 inpatient days of treatment and 20 outpatient days of treatment for all mental illnesses.

The agreement would also require insurance companies to fully cover biologically based mental illnesses, including the following: Schizophrenia/psychotic disorders, Major Depression, Bipolar Disorder, Delusional Disorders, Panic Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Bulimia, Anorexia and Binge Eating.

COVERAGE FOR CHILDREN WITH MENTAL ILLNESS - In addition, the agreed upon bill would require insurance coverage for children under age 18 with attention deficit disorder, disruptive behavior disorders or pervasive development disorders where there are serious suicidal symptoms or other life-threatening self-destructive behavior; significant psychotic symptoms (hallucinations, delusion, bizarre behaviors); behavior caused by emotional disturbances that placed the child at risk of causing personal injury or significant property damage; or behavior caused by emotional disturbances that placed the child at substantial risk of removal from the household.

To address cost concerns raised by small businesses, the agreement directs the state Superintendent of Insurance to implement a system that would protect small businesses. A fund would be created to fully offset any increase in insurance premiums on businesses with 50 or fewer employees resulting from this legislation.

The approved legislation would also require the state Insurance Department and the Office of Mental Health to conduct a two year study to determine the effectiveness and impact of mental health parity legislation in New York and other states.

"We commend the members of the New York State Senate and their staff for their work to make this day, on which this historic legislation is passed, a reality. Timothy’s Law supporters throughout New York State are now counting on the New York State Assembly to return to Albany to pass this legislation and for Governor Pataki to sign this bill into law when it arrives at his desk for his consideration. Only then will New York join the majority of other states working to eliminate unnecessary barriers to mental health treatment, allowing people to live full and productive lives, and beginning to curb the annual loss of billions of dollars caused by untreated mental illness that plague businesses of all sizes and our economy as a whole," stated Glenn Liebman, CEO of the Mental Health Association in New York State.

"Families of children with special emotional and behavioral disorders know first hand the trauma caused by the lack of services. They have endured crisis trips to the emergency room, have given up their houses to pay for treatment, have witnessed the slow starvation of anorexia and suffered through suicide attempts of their son or daughter. Our families have hope for the future of their children. That’s why families have worked so hard for passage of Timothy’s Law. That’s why they are watching on this historic day as the Senate passes Timothy’s Law," added Paige Pierce, Executive Director of Families Together in New York State. "We want to thank the Senate for passing Timothy’s Law today. We are grateful for the Assembly’s support and look forward to the day it is signed into law by the Governor. On that day our families will truly celebrate."

"We commend the Senate for taking this important step toward ending the discriminatory coverage of treatment for mental illnesses. NASW-NYS applauds Tom O'Clair for his courageous leadership and perseverance in fighting for parity on behalf of his son Timothy to provide relief for so many New York families," said Reinaldo Cardona of the National Association of Social Workers, New York State Chapter. "We look forward to the Assembly returning in the near future to take swift action to pass Timothy's Law, so that this fair and affordable solution that will save lives and families may be signed into law by Governor Pataki as soon as possible."

The legislation was sent to the Assembly for action. When enacted, the bill would take effect January 1, 2007 and sunset on December 31, 2009, to provide for an opportunity to amend the law based on the findings and recommendations of the study.