SLC Chamber of Commerce opposes proposal for mental health insurance bill

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    By TIFFANY GEE

    The Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce is trying to gather momentum to fight against a mental health insurance bill headed for Capitol Hill.

    The bill would require businesses to cover mental health on their insurance plans for employees.

    The Chamber of Commerce met Monday to address the issue of state-mandated mental health insurance and the effect it would have on small businesses. They reported that according to research, mental health insurance parity would increase insurance premium costs for small businesses from 3-to-10 percent.

    Frank Pignenelli of the Health Care Committee said the chamber isn’t against treatment of mental health, but said the issue is the price of a mental health mandate. He said last year all small businesses received a double-digit increase in health insurance and when prices get that high, businesses have to start making decisions on where to cut back.

    “Cost will be saved in jails, homelessness, Medicaid and businesses.”

    — Rep. Judy Ann Buffmire, D-Millcreek

    Jax Hale Pettey, the owner of a title company who spoke on behalf of small business owners, said there are three options for small business owners if forced to carry mental health insurance.

    “They can either take money out of their own pocket, pass the fee directly to the employees or drop health care completely,” Pettey said.

    “Supporters of mental health parity will claim that costs will not rise. We must look at the cost of mental health care. It is disproportionately high, two-to-three times higher than regular health care, and the definition and treatment are entirely objective,” said Sandra Lucas, the executive director of the Utah chapter of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights.

    Rep. Judy Ann Buffmire, D-Millcreek, who is sponsoring the bill for catastrophic mental health insurance coverage, said the bill will save money in the long run.

    “Cost will be saved in jails, homelessness, Medicaid and businesses. They have people depressed or on their way to depression. This is the largest mental illness we have and it costs billions of dollars nationally. Businesses will save money from disruption, mistakes, absenteeism and they won’t have to hire and rehire,” Buffmire said.

    Statistics done by the Chamber of Commerce show that 69 percent of small businesses already cover mental health in their insurance plans, but 80 percent of the businesses oppose state-mandated health coverage.

    Pettey said the crux of the issue is not the statistics, but how it will be perceived by small business owners.

    “You have to ask yourself, why do they work twice as hard for half the pay? They want things their way,” Pettey said. “Happy workers make for better workers, but higher insurance makes for less coverage. Negative stereotypes are associated with mandates.

    “Basic mental health care coverage definitely has merit but I think it should be put to the small business owner.”

    It is Buffmire’s fourth year sponsoring mental illness legislation. The bill excludes mental health conditions such as conduct disorder, personality disorder and mental retardation, and states that the employees have to be diagnosed by a mental health therapist or in a licensed health care facility.

    “We don’t want to hurt businesses, but we can no longer discriminate against mental illness,” Buffmire said.

    Ted Smith, a member of the Public Policy Committee of the Chamber of Commerce said there are nearly 2,000 members of the Chamber of Commerce and 80 percent of those are small businesses.

    “We want to be effective on Capitol Hill to get our voices heard,” Smith said.

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