SC Department of Mental Health News Release

Mental Health Commission Supports Full Insurance Parity For Mental Illness Coverage

Contact:  Geoff Mason, SCDMH
(803) 898-8337

Columbia, SC -- November 17, 1999:  At its November meeting, the South Carolina Mental Health Commission announced that it strongly supports legislation introduced in the South Carolina General Assembly requiring health insurance parity for coverage of mental illnesses equal to the coverage plans provided for physical ailments.  Such equality of protection, called "parity," should also apply to chronic substance abuse.

In a prepared policy statement, Vice-chair Douglas F. Gay said, "The Commission believes that the time  has come to correct this long standing injustice by following the lead of a number of other states and the federal government.  Over 25 states have enacted parity laws with varying approaches to prohibit health insurance discrimination, and many other states have introduced bills during 1999.  We believe that the brain should be treated just like any other body part, and that the sooner health insurers begin treating mental illness like any other illness, the sooner the terrible stigma and discrimination against those with the misfortune to be mentally ill will cease.

"The Commission supports full parity -- parity for all International Classification of Diseases mental illnesses, the same day and visit limits, the copayments, the same annual and lifetime liability limits etc, as well as the full coverage of all mental illness and substance abuse.  All those suffering from mental illness should be covered.

"The Commission finds that the social costs of mental illness and substance abuse create massive expenses for industry and business through absenteeism and lost and reduced productivity.  While there will be an additional cost for parity, most studies indicate that this cost will not be significant, usually in the one to two percent range.  Full parity will allow complete treatment of mental illnesses for both adults and children, and do away with a discriminatory practice that flies in the face of the ideal of equality, which is the basis of our country."

The South Carolina Mental Health Commission is the governing board of the South Carolina Department of Mental Health, responsible for the policy direction and operation of the Department Commission members are appointed by the governor with advice and consent of the senate.

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