Insurance companies will be required to cover mental illnesses as they do physical ailments under a new law signed Dec. 22 by outgoing New York state Gov. George E. Pataki.
Pataki enacted Timothy’s Law, named for 12-year-old Timothy O’Clair of Schenectady County. Timothy was unable to obtain enough mental-health services under his parents’ health-insurance coverage, and his parents were forced to give up custody of him so he could receive treatment. The boy hanged himself in March 2001.
Timothy’s parents, Tom and Donna O’Clair, joined other mental-health-care advocates in advocating the proposal, and agreed to attach their son’s name to it to draw attention to the bill, which had been discussed for more than a decade.
Under the new law, insurance coverage must provide at least 30 days of active inpatient hospital care during a calendar year and at least 20 days of outpatient mental-health care through a state-licensed facility or practice. The cost of premiums and deductibles must be on par with those of other benefits.
Insurance coverage for businesses with more than 50 employees must include treatment for schizophrenia and psychotic disorders, major depression, obsessive-compulsive disorders, bulimia, anorexia, serious cases of attention-deficit disorders in children, disruptive disorders and pervasive development disorders.
Also, children younger than 18 must be eligible for coverage if they have serious suicidal symptoms or other life-threatening self-destructive behaviors, significant psychotic symptoms, behavior caused by emotional disturbances in which the child might harm himself or herself or cause significant property damage, or behavior due to emotional disturbances that place the child at risk of being removed from the home.
Businesses with 50 or fewer employees would be required to make similar coverage available for employees to purchase at their own expense.
To help small businesses offset the cost of this coverage, the superintendent of the State Insurance Department has been directed to create an insurance plan that would be financed through the state’s general fund.
“New York state has finally put to rest the falsehood that mental illness is not as serious a condition as physical illness,” noted a statement from Richard E. Barnes, executive director of the New York State Catholic Conference. “Timothy’s Law will ensure that those who suffer the devastating effects of mental illness will not be denied the services they need.”
The conference, which represents the state’s Catholic bishops in public-policy matters, made passage of the law the focus of its 2006 lobbying day in March.
The law took effect Jan. 1 and will sunset on Dec. 31, 2009. According to a press release from the state Senate, the law requires the State Insurance Department and Department of Mental Health to conduct a two-year study of the effectiveness of the law and similar health-parity laws in other states.
The 2009 sunset is designed to give state legislators a chance to amend Timothy’s Law based on the study’s findings and recommendations, the release said.