From the Office of State Senator Rodney Ellis

For Immediate Release
May 22, 1997
Contact: Rick Svataro, (512) 463-0113

Texas Senate Approves Measure to Provide Health Insurance Coverage for Mental Illnesses

AUSTIN, Tx. -- The Texas Senate today unanimously passed legislation to make treatment for serious mental illnesses more accessible to Texas families. House Bill 1173, by State Representative Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) and Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston), would require group health plans and HMOs to provide insurance coverage for Texans with serious mental illnesses.

"This isn't a Woody Allen bill. I'm not trying to cover the folks who you might call the 'walking worried,'" said Coleman, who has openly discussed his own experience with depression. "This bill is about making sure that people with diagnosable brain disorders have access to the treatment they need. If the Governor signs this bill, Texans will finally get the coverage for which they have been paying premiums."

Recent estimates show that in Texas, 2.5 million adults and 105,000 children are affected by some form of mental illness. This bill would allow people to access treatment for illnesses such as depression, bi-polar disorder, and schizophrenia.

The lawmakers said the legislation would require group health plans and HMOs to provide insurance coverage for 60 outpatient and 45 inpatient visits for serious mental illnesses. The coverage must be equal to the terms and conditions applied to other physical illnesses.

"We must ensure that people with brain disorders receive the same kind of treatment and care that patients with physical illnesses receive," said Ellis. "Our legislation will allow people with diagnosable brain disorders to receive treatment that is medically necessary -- just as we treat those with other types of serious illnesses."

A number of other states have developed initiatives for persons with mental illnesses. In 1995, a Minnesota law took effect prohibiting more restrictive coverage for individuals needing mental health or chemical dependency services. In Maine, a recent law requires group contracts to provide benefits for specific mental disorders that are equal to coverage provided for physical illnesses.

In 1990, untreated mental disorders resulted in more than $63 billion in lost productivity for American businesses. A 1996 study found that each dollar spent on the treatment of mood disorders yields between three and nine dollars in net economic return on employment earnings.

The bill now returns to the House for concurrence with Senate amendments, then heads to the Governor for his signature.