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Timothy's Law Easily Passes NYS Assembly

Some content from the Schenectady Daily Gazette

Assemblywoman Sylvia Friedman called me [on Thursday, March 9, 2006] to tell me, in part, that she was proud that one of her first votes was in favor of Timothy's Law.

Sylvia also told me that her first speech since elected, was in the Democratic Conference in favor of extending EPIC to persons with disabilities.

-Marvin Wasserman
504 Democratic Club President

Source: NYAPRS

NYAPRS Note: The campaign to win passage of mental health and substance abuse treatment insurance parity in New York State moved forward with Wednesday's passage of the bill in the NYS Assembly and news conference attended by Assembly leaders and representatives of the many mental health advocacy groups who make up the Timothy's Law Coalition.

NYAPRS members have identified the passage of Timothy's Law as one of their priorities for this year's legislative session.

Timothy's Law Revived, Easily Passes Assembly
by BOB CONNER Schenectady Daily Gazette Reporter
March 9, 2006

Thomas O'Clair came back to Albany on Wednesday, as the state Assembly once again passed legislation named after his dead son.

It has been five years since Timothy O'Clair, who was almost 13 years old, committed suicide in his Rotterdam home.

"Who knows what Tim could have grown to be?" his father asked at a Capitol news conference, echoing the words of a Kenny Chesney country song, "Who You'd Be Today." O'Clair said the song "makes me cry every time I hear it."

"We couldn't get Tim the care he needed," O'Clair said.

"Timothy's Law" is an attempt to make insurers provide that mental health coverage for other families. The "mental health parity" legislation would require insurance companies to cover mental illness and substance abuse treatment in the same way they do physical illnesses. Assemblyman Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, prime sponsor of the bill, said it has "languished far too long," and that its passage is a matter of "fairness, justice and who we are as a society."

The bill passed the Assembly later Wednesday by a vote of 134 to 9, said Thomas Lynch, Tonko's legislative director. It also has passed the Assembly in previous years. Before 2001, similar legislation passed with a different name.

In 2004, a version of the bill passed the Senate at the end of the session, but was never referred to a conference committee. Mark Hansen, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, R-Brunswick, said the Senate version of the bill has an exemption for businesses with 50 or fewer workers. Without such an exemption, he said, the bill "would likely result in many businesses not offering health insurance."

Matthew Maguire, communications director for The Business Council of New York State, made a similar point. He said, "The insurance industry projects a 3.5 percent increase on premiums if Timothy's Law is enacted," meaning "health insurance could be put out of reach for some 900,000 New Yorkers." There is no requirement that employers offer health insurance.

Maguire said the state does, however, have more than 40 insurance mandates, and 109 more have been proposed in the Legislature within the past year.

Assemblyman Alexander "Pete" Grannis, D-Manhattan, appearing with O'Clair and Tonko at the news conference, said "tragedies have a direct and indirect cost." Many states and companies have found that providing mental health coverage can save money, he said, because "if you catch it early you avoid the cost later on." Grannis is chairman of the Insurance Committee.

O'Clair also cited the lost productivity involved when families are left to fend for themselves.

More than 320 organizations, including many dealing with mental health issues, have endorsed the Assembly bill.

The New York State Catholic Conference is one of them. It issued a statement saying: "The case of Timothy O'Clair, for whom Timothy's Law is named, clearly illustrates the ultimate cost that barriers to treatment can exact. Equal coverage for a patient's illness or condition should occur whether that illness or condition is mental or physical."

Hansen said the Senate leadership would consider the matter, but is now focused on the state budget.

Silver, Key Assembly Members Call For Ending Mental Health Care Discrimination Urge Senate To Join In Passing 'Timothy's Law'
Assembly March 8 News Release

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Assemblyman Paul Tonko today announced expected passage by the Assembly this afternoon of Timothy's Law, a mental-health parity bill (A.2912-A) aimed at ending discrimination against mental-health care and addiction treatment by insurance companies in New York State.

At a Capitol news conference, Tonko was joined by Assembly Insurance Committee Chair Alexander 'Pete' Grannis and Peter Rivera, chair of the Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Committee as well as mental-health-care advocates in urging the Senate also to approve the measure this year. The legislators hailed the bill's goal of expanding the limited mental-health care and addiction-treatment insurance coverage currently available to New Yorkers.

The legislation is known as Timothy's Law, for Timothy O'Clair, who took his own life before his 13th birthday. Tom O'Clair, Timothy's father, and other members of the O'Clalir family also participated in the news conference. They explained their painful loss and the suffering they continue to experience because they lacked adequate health insurance coverage required to access desperately needed treatment.

"Timothy's Law is a top priority for the 2006 legislative year. This bill establishes the rights of those who need mental-health care or addiction treatment so that these individuals will no longer be second-class citizens in our health-insurance system," said Silver. "Mental-health parity has long been a major issue for the Assembly. We urge the Senate to recognize the severity of this health-care crisis and quickly follow our lead and pass this critical piece of legislation so that it becomes law this year."

"Each year health plans continue to cut back on coverage for mental-health care and addiction treatment," said Tonko (D-Schenectady/Montgomery counties). "Our parents, children, friends and family cannot continue to stand by and watch insurance coverage for these treatments erode from year to year. Most families can't afford to pay out-of-pocket for expensive care, whether it be outpatient counseling, rehabilitation or inpatient care."

"It is time to end insurance discrimination against mental-health care and addiction treatment in New York. Timothy's Law will accomplish that. We should join the 35 other states that have adopted parity laws. I am determined to see Timothy's Law enacted in 2006. Under Assemblyman Tonko's leadership, this bill will pass the Assembly and get us one step closer to ending the devastation experienced by so many New Yorkers and their families," said Tom O'Clair, a tireless advocate of the bill.

Tonko, Grannis and Rivera stressed the need to address this dire health-care situation immediately. Their urgency was confirmed by several mental-health advocates, who shared their first-hand experiences with insurance plans that failed to cover much needed mental-health care and addiction-treatment services.

"The experience of the state's own Empire Plan shows that it is possible to offer a comprehensive mental-health benefit without busting the bank. It is time to end the discrimination against mental illness," said Grannis (D-Manhattan), who noted that comprehensive parity laws in other states have not been accompanied by the often-feared increases in health-insurance premiums.

"The need to extend full insurance coverage for mental-health services is very evident. Most recently, Governor Pataki has proposed screening 400,000 New York children for mental illness. Without adequate insurance coverage, such as that provided by Timothy's Law, these screenings are empty promises of help for thousands of children, adults and families throughout our state that will not be able to afford health services and treatment," said Rivera (D-Bronx).

"My stepson, Chris, died last year after being denied treatment. He left behind a family who loved him and many hopes and dreams for the future, such as getting his GED and working in his father's union. Words can't say how much we miss him. This is discrimination in its most deadly form," said Kim Spicciatie, who spoke of her family's grief in the wake of losing a loved one after having difficulties obtaining care for his mental-health and substance-abuse problems.

"In addition to being executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of New York State, I am also a family member of a loved one who suffers from a mental illness, my wife. Last year, I spent almost $10,000 out-of-pocket for her medical care. After dealing with my HMO for many months, I finally was reimbursed about $1,700 in October. That's 17 cents on the dollar. If she had heart disease or diabetes, almost all of her medical expenses would have been covered. It just isn't fair. Insurers should be required to treat illnesses of the brain like illnesses of other parts of the body," said David Seay, a member of the Timothy's Law Campaign Executive Committee.

"My family gave up our house and moved in with my mother to be able to afford the services that our son John needed. Mental health care is just that, health care. It is medical treatment that can save the life of a child. The financial sacrifices our family made were worth it because, thankfully, John is now doing great. But I do wish we could have afforded to keep our home and to take a family vacation like other families," said Diane Lang, a mother from Long Island who told of the challenges she faced in obtaining treatment for her son.

Summing up for the family members and mental-health-care consumers, Paige Pierce, executive director of Families Together in New York State and co-chair of the Timothy's Law Campaign, called for the enactment of Timothy's Law this year. "How many more tragedies will the families of New York have to endure? Timothy's Law must become law in 2006," she insisted.

Timothy's Law is supported by more than 320 state organizations united under the Timothy's Law Campaign, including: