Thirty-two states have required that insurers treat mental and physical illness equally. Ohio should be 33.

State Rep. Lynn Olman borrows a simple story to explain the injustice at work in the treatment of mental illness. The main character is dopamine, a chemical in the brain that produces a feeling of well-being. If your body produces too little dopamine, the result is Parkinson's disease, the ailment that afflicts Michael J. Fox, Janet Reno and many others.

Too much, and the horrifying result is schizophrenia.

The injustice can be found in the benefits available. Treatment of Parkinson's can cost $1,200 a month, virtually all of the expense covered by insurance companies. In, Ohio, those suffering from schizophrenia typically face limited benefits, in the form of, say, higher co-pays, less generous deductibles and lifetime restrictions.

The same chemical goes awry with severe consequences in each instance, yet the insurance coverage varies greatly. Olman repeats this story to colleagues in the Statehouse. The Maumee Republican has been pushing for four terms to gain passage of legislation. that would mandate parity in health coverage for mental illness.

For years, Robert Netzley blocked consideration. Term limits forced his retirement (a rare blessing, it must be admitted). Now prospects have brightened a bit in the Ohio House. Olman would like action when lawmakers return later this month- He should get no less.

Opponents have watched their arguments crumble. The Ohio Chamber of Commerce complained (see Parity, page 6) (Parity from page 1) long and loudly about the cost to business. In another time, that might have been the case. Woody Allen wasn't far from the mark in parodying patients addicted to their weekly sessions on the couch. Today, effective drugs often mean recovery, repairing broken lives, making families whole again.

Olman invited a cost-benefit analysis by Milliman USA, a firm hired by the Ohio Legislative Service Commission. Milliman found the mandate would increase health insurance premiums an average of I percent to 1.5 percent. That seems a fair price, especially in view of the social costs associated with mental illness, such as absenteeism, homelessness, lost productivity, and suicide.

Ohio has learned from experience. State workers have parity coverage for mental illness. The state hasn't seen health costs skyrocket as a result. They've actually dropped by 64 percent, proving managed care and treatment for mental illness can coexist.

If coverage is good enough for state workers, why not for the rest of Ohioans? The Chamber of Commerce now warns less about cost and more about the scourge of legislative mandates. Yet that line has been crossed. In 1979, the state established minimal coverage for mental illness. The Olman bill would build on the foundation, reflecting advancements in medicine that promise to aid individuals and the state as a whole.

Thirty-two states have seen the value in parity of coverage. In January, the state Mental Health Commission recommended that Ohio do the same. Olman has purposely marked his proposal House Bill 33. He presses the practicality still further. He recalls his own epiphany noting that if those afflicted do not have coverage and are not properly treated, taxpayers eventually pick up the tab, and the costs are far higher.

Better in today's world of effective care to establish the mandate, and reap savings overall for the state.

Most poignant are tales of broken lives put back together, children returning to parents who thought they were lost forever in their anguish, adults returning to the normal lives that bolster communities. The Department of Mental Health has suffered one budget blow after another the past decade. Local agencies have come to depend heavily on property owners for funds. The Summit County Board of Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health has a needed levy request on the November ballot.

The least legislators could do is listen to Lynn Olman and redress the injustice in the treatment of mental illness.

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© Copyright 2008 State Representative Lynn Olman. All rights reserved.


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