COLUMBUS, Ohio - Insurance plans would have to offer the same coverage for mental illness as for physical ailments under a bill that Republican lawmakers may approve after years of opposing such a requirement.
Top GOP legislative leaders said Tuesday they're ready to pass the legislation despite continuing concerns about the effect on businesses.
Whether Gov. Bob Taft would approve the bill is another question. Taft, a Republican leaving office early next year, has long opposed such a requirement. Spokesman Mark Rickel said Wednesday he's not aware that business groups have changed their minds about the bill's effect on their bottom line.
Gov.-elect Ted Strickland, a former prison psychologist, supports the measure.
Proponents are encouraged by the apparent change of heart among Republican lawmakers.
"The fact that leadership is supporting the issue now says we have moved past the tipping point," said Rep. Jon Peterson, a Delaware Republican and sponsor of the bill in the House.
Supporters argue that it's unfair and discriminatory for many health-insurance plans to offer less coverage for a mental illness such as schizophrenia than a physical ailment such as Parkinson's disease.
But small-business owners argue that another insurance mandate would drive up already high health care costs. They also say the proposal is unfair because it does not apply to all companies.
The National Federation of Independent Businesses/Ohio estimates the bill would affect coverage offered to about one-third of Ohio workers.
"This unconscionable bill targets the small-business community when health insurance has been the No. 1 concern since 1986," said Ty Pine, NFIB state director.
Republican Sen. Steve Stivers, chairman of the Senate Insurance Committee, said that while he's not a fan of the bill, there are enough votes to pass it out of committee. Senate President Bill Harris said he expects a vote by the full Senate.
Harris said he now supports the bill but still doesn't like that it fails to affect larger, self-insured employers who, under federal law, are exempt from state insurance mandates. He also worries that cost increases could force some small businesses to drop health insurance, though the bill provides an opt-out provision if costs increase more than 1 percent.
House Speaker Jon Husted, who voted against a similar bill two years ago, said advocates spent time explaining the financial effect of the bill.
"I've had several conversations on this and I felt that we had been able to allay some concerns and some of the business objections to this," he said.
Thursday, November 30, 2006
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