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June 17, 2003

Council mounts strong resistance to 'mental health parity' mandate

The Business Council this week continues to strongly oppose a proposed new health-insurance mandate that would significantly inflate insurance costs and imperil coverage for thousands of New Yorkers by requiring costly, expanded coverage for mental illness and substance abuse.

Mental-health providers that would directly benefit from a government mandate of costlier benefits are behind the well-publicized push for the "mental health parity."

But The Council has responded with arguments that a government fiat expanding insurance benefits would actually cost many thousands of New Yorkers access to all benefits, said Elliott Shaw, director of government affairs and health-care lobbyist for The Council.

The bill in question (A.8301-Tonko/S.5329-Libous) would increase health-insurance costs from 3 to 3.5 percent, according to two separate industry analyses of the bill. Previous studies show that every 1 percent increase in health-insurance premiums puts health-insurance out of reach for 30,000 New Yorkers—because either they or their employers can no longer afford it.

That means the new mandate could cost 90,000 New Yorkers or more access to health insurance they can afford, Shaw noted.

"For many, the health consequences would be dire," Shaw wrote in a June 11 opinion column in the New York Post. "State disease-rate statistics make it possible to project that, in any one year, 119 women who will be diagnosed with breast cancer will have lost their insurance as a result of this mandate; 66 men diagnosed with colorectal cancer will suffer the same fate."

New York has more than 30 mandated benefits that significantly increase the cost of health insurance. The average family in New York pays more than $1,000 per year to cover the cost of mandated services, according to the study by the Employer Alliance for Affordable Health Care.

More employers should be able to offer workers access to the same kind of basic, affordable health insurance - and that ideal should be the focus of New York's health-care policy," Shaw concluded in the New York Post column. "It's time to stop making affordable health insurance against the law."