Letter to the Business Editor
Published Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Your recent article “Putting a Premium on Mental Health Care” argues that small businesses will be negatively affected by the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act. The Act requires that businesses with 51 employees or more cover mental health benefits, including treatments for addiction, at the same level as physical ailments. Businesses can choose not to provide mental health benefits if their inclusion raises premium costs more than 2 percent in the first year, and 1 percent after that.
It is true that rising premiums do hurt small businesses. But it is untrue and short-sighted to suggest that the mental health parity legislation will raise premiums significantly.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the increase in premiums will be no more than an average of two-tenths of 1 percent. Maine and Vermont have mental health parity plans, and the cost has risen less than 1 percent. Numerous studies indicate that mental health benefits can lead to lower premiums, healthier workers, and higher productivity for businesses in the long-run.
Over time, this bill probably will help to lower insurance premiums. Despite the fact that the majority of mental illnesses and addictions are highly treatable, many individuals suffering from mental illness currently do not receive the care they need due to coverage limits, high costs, and social stigma. The cost for nontreatment is $200 billion per year in lost productivity and increased burden on public safety net programs, according to the American Psychiatric Association. Mental health is a (mostly) treatable illness that is no more a matter of will power or moral choice than is diabetes or heart disease.
Mental health benefits represent a relatively low investment to pay for increased productivity and healthier employees.