Oregon's Kulongoski Signs Mental Health Parity Bill

August 17, 2005 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski has signed into law a measure that requires the state's group health insurers to offer insurance parity for mental health and substance abuse disorders.

Web site statement by Kulongoski said that Senate Bill 1 brought Oregon up to par with other states in requiring mental health coverage parity.

“This legislation will help improve the lives for thousands of Oregonians and their families because of a core group of people who would not stop fighting for what is the right thing to do for our state today and for the future,” Kulongoski said in the news release.  “The passage of this law will deliver a positive change and new opportunities for citizens throughout the state, making Oregon and our communities a better place for us all to live.”

Kulongoski also rejected arguments from parity opponents that the move would jack up total health care costs.  When Oregon’s Public Employees’ Benefit Board (PEBB) implemented parity, the increase in cost over the first twelve months was less than one-half of one percent, according to the governor.
The measure mandates that group health insurance policies that cover workers’ hospital and medical expenses must cover charges from treatment for mental and nervous conditions, chemical dependencies, and alcoholism at the same level of coverage offered for other conditions, according to news reports.   The bill will take effect January 1, 2007 and will apply to policies issued or renewed on or after that date.

More than 30 states have passed various forms of mental health care parity legislation, though none of the laws apply to self-funded employers complying with federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act regulations, which pre-empt state laws relating to employee benefit plans.

A similar federal law is scheduled to expire at the end of this year (See Feds Extend MHPA to December ’05 ).