New York Gov. David Paterson recently proposed legislation to permanently extend Timothy’s Law, a temporary measure enacted in 2006 to help New Yorkers receive adequate mental-health insurance coverage. The New York State Catholic Conference, which is the public-policy arm of the state’s bishops, is asking Catholics to encourage their legislators to make Timothy’s Law permanent.
Timothy’s Law requires insurance companies to provide the same coverage for mental illnesses that they do for physical illnesses, including a minimum of 30 inpatient days and 20 outpatient visits. It also mandates that insurance coverage for businesses with more than 50 employees must include coverage for adults and children diagnosed with such biologically based mental illnesses as schizophrenia — as well as for children diagnosed with serious emotional disturbances — at the same level as coverage provided for other health conditions.
The law is named for Timothy O’Clair, a 12-year-old from Schenectady County who hanged himself in March 2001. His parents, Tom and Donna O’Clair, advocated for the law and maintained that the boy might have been saved if they had been able to obtain more mental-health-care services for him under their health-insurance plan.
Although Timothy’s Law took effect Jan. 1, 2007, it is set to expire Dec. 31, 2009, unless state legislators vote to make it permanent. The state Insurance Department and Department of Mental Health on May 5 released the results of a two-year study of the law’s effectiveness on mental-health parity, as well as the cost of the law’s mandates and their impact on policyholders.
The study found that since the passage of Timothy’s Law, more New Yorkers are receiving higher levels of mental-health coverage. The law served to increase slightly the cost of health-insurance premiums, but small employers expressed ambivalence about cost and benefit changes arising from the mandate, according to the report, which may be found at www.ins.state.ny.us.
The study also found that the local effect of a new federal mental-health and addiction parity law, which was enacted in October 2008, is dependent upon the continuation of Timothy’s Law.
“Since the federal law does not require large group health plans to provide mental health benefits, if Timothy’s Law is not continued beyond its Dec. 31, 2009 sunset, mental health benefits would not be required in large group policies at all,” the study stated.
Paterson reviewed the study’s findings on May 5, which would have been Timothy’s 21st birthday, and proposed that the state make Timothy’s Law permanent.
“Timothy’s Law has provided countless New Yorkers with the mental health coverage they need to remain healthy and be productive residents of our state,” Paterson said in a statement. “The impact of Timothy’s Law has been far reaching, going beyond the requirement that health insurance cover treatment for mental health conditions, to help eliminate the stigma surrounding mental illness and those with mental health conditions that too often cause people to go without the care and treatment we know is effective.”
One in four Americans will have a diagnosable and treatable mental illness in their lifetime, Timothy’s father noted in the statement from the governor’s office.
“While making Timothy’s Law permanent will not bring my son back, it will allow those millions of New Yorkers who also face mental illness to get the treatment they need,” Thomas O’Clair remarked.
“Since Timothy’s Law was originally enacted in 2006, I have been approached by many individuals and parents of children who have told me of the positive impact Timothy’s Law has had on affording them the services they or their children need,” Donna O’Clair said in the statement.
If Timothy’s Law is to be renewed and made permanent, legislators must vote on it by the end of their legislative session in June, according to Dennis Poust, spokesman for the Catholic conference. The conference also supports expanding the law to include coverage for substance-abuse treatment.
“Justice requires that barriers to access to mental health services be removed. Timothy’s Law is a significant step to accomplish this goal,” the conference stated in a May 4 Action Alert statement.
Visitors to the conference’s Web site, www.nyscatholic.org, may click on the Take Action Now button to find a draft message of support for Timothy’s Law. This message may be customized and sent to Paterson and members of the state Senate and Assembly directly from the conference’s Web site.