Assembly Passes Timothy’s Law in Special Session

Legislation to end insurance discrimination for mental health services
December 14, 2006

Assemblymember Kevin Cahill (D- Ulster, Dutchess) said the Assembly, during a special session Wednesday, passed a mental health parity bill known as Timothy’s Law, a measure of which he is a prime co-sponsor. The bill is aimed at ending discrimination against mental health care by insurance companies in New York State (A.12080).

“It is unacceptable that New York State has allowed health insurance companies to discriminate against individuals in need of mental health care,” said Assemblymember Cahill. “This important measure will begin to bring parity to our insurance law and put an end to the misconception that it is somehow more important to treat a broken leg as opposed to a broken spirit.”

“This legislation has been a priority for the Assembly for years and I urge the Governor to promptly sign it into law,” Mr. Cahill said. “While the Senate was reluctant for years to advance this meaningful legislation, it has now passed both houses of the Legislature, and will help ensure that our health insurance system takes care of those afflicted with mental illness.”

The bill is named for 12-year-old Timothy O’Clair, who took his life after battling mental illness since age 7. Timothy O’Clair’s parents used the limited benefits their policy provided to help their son, but Timothy needed more care than the insurance covered. Struggling for five years to find additional, affordable medical help, the O’Clairs, out of desperation, placed their son in foster care so he could qualify for Medicaid. But the help came too late. He took his own life just before his 13th birthday, shortly after entering the state system.

“For too long, people needing help for emotional and behavioral problems have been denied proper care because insurance companies either don’t cover these services or only pay for limited visits. Some companies even deny coverage,” said Mr. Cahill. “The lives of this young man and countless others have been lost, but their stories and lives will forever change how we help others.”

Under this legislation:

  • insurance companies would be required to cover 30 inpatient and 20 outpatient days of treatment for all mental illnesses;
  • insurance coverage would be required for biologically-based mental illnesses;
  • children under 18 with attention deficit disorder, disruptive behavior disorders, significant psychotic symptoms, or behavior caused by emotional disturbances that places the child at risk of causing injuries, property damage or being removed from a household will be insured;
  • the state Superintendent of Insurance must devise a plan to protect businesses with 50 or fewer employees from any increase in insurance premiums as a result of this legislation; and
  • the state Insurance Department and the Office of Mental Health must conduct a two-year study to determine the effectiveness and impact of mental health parity legislation in New York and other states.

Previous versions of the legislation, passed by the Assembly, would have also required coverage of addictive disorders such as alcoholism and substance abuse. The Senate and the Governor would not agree to the inclusion of those provisions in the final package. “This is an excellent step towards ending an inequity that has gone on for far too long, but it is far from perfect,” said Assemblymember Cahill. “We will certainly continue our efforts to expand parity in the coming Legislative Session.”