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    A bill has been introduced to the Michigan House of Representatives that would prohibit health insurers from, "imposing cost-sharing requirements and benefit or service limitations for mental health and substance abuse services that are more restrictive or financially burdensome than for medical services." The bill would apply specifically to hospital, medical, or surgical policies of commercial health insurance companies and Health Maintenance Organizations that provide outpatient medical services.

    . Bill 4597 seeks to prohibit health insurers from charging more or limiting services for outpatient mental health and substance abuse services as opposed to surgical and medical services. Currently, health insurers can place a higher restriction and financial burden on outpatient mental health and substance abuse services in comparison to other outpatient services. The bill was introduced by the Michigan House Democrats and would amend the Insurance Code of 1956. Representative Rebekah Warren of Michigan's 53rd House District is the official sponsor of the bill, which was submitted on March 17, 2009 and is still being considered in the House.

    The bill was introduced with three other bills, including House Bill 4598, House Bill 4599, and House Bill 4600. In order for House Bill 4597 to pass, the rest must also pass, for the bills are tie-barred to each other. Bill 4598 deals with parity for inpatient treatments in hospitals, Bill 4599 deals with parity for inpatient treatments and health care corporations, and Bill 4600 deals with parity for outpatient treatments and health care corporations.

    The bill would potentially end the problem of mental health and drug abuse service parity or equality. Proponents of the bill argue that it is unfair for health insurers to charge more or place restrictions on mental health and substance abuse services as opposed to any other outpatient services. They say that this bill would effectively get rid of parity in services and end discrimination to those suffering with mental health or substance abuse disorders. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, roughly 96% of health insurance plans impose limitations and restrictions on mental health services that they do not impose on physical health services. Proponents also point out that 46 other states have passed legislation dealing with parity between mental health and substance abuse services.

    Opponents of the bill argue that the plan would increase the price of health insurance coverage and put an unnecessary burden on people in a state where the economy is struggling. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the bill would potentially increase premiums for group health insurance coverage by an average of about 0.4 percent. This increase would occur before adding in the responses of health plans, employers, and workers to the passage of the bill. Adding in these extra costs, opponents argue that employers will provide less health insurance plans to workers and higher premiums will force those already covered to drop their plans.

    The bill currently sits in the House Health Policy Committee. The Committee has heard from eight different groups, including both opponents and proponents. The Michigan Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business both oppose the bill, stating that it is against any sort of government health-related mandate that could potentially affect the prices and restrictions of health coverage plans. The committee has heard testimony from a range of social workers and psychologists all supporting the plan, including the Michigan Association of Social Workers and the Michigan Psychological Association.

    For now, the bill sits in committee waiting to be voted on. If voted out of committee, the bill will move to the House floor for a vote and then through the rest of the legislative process. Since there is no timetable on voting on the bill, it is unknown whether it will ever become law.

    Sources:

    http://www.legislature.mi.gov/documents/2009-2010/billintroduced/House/htm/2009-HIB-4597.htm
    http://www.legislature.mi.gov/documents/2009-2010/billanalysis/House/htm/2009-HLA-4597-1.htm

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    The Michigan Policy Network is a student-led public education and research program to report and organize news and information about the political process surrounding Michigan state policy issues. It is run out of the Department of Political Science at Michigan State University, with participation by students from the College of Social Science, the College of Communication, and James Madison College. 

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