New legislation seeks to close the mental health coverage gap

In his State of the Union address, President Biden called on Congress to help address America’s ongoing mental health crisis. He unveiled an aggressive plan that would finally consider – and treat – mental health the same as physical health.

The plan took an important step toward becoming reality last week when Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) joined Representatives Katie Porter (D-Calif.) and Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) in introducing the Closing Health Coverage Gaps for Public Servants Act in Congress.

“The nation’s mental health crisis has gotten even worse during these last two grueling years,” said AFSCME President Lee Saunders. “And people who work in public service, who have been on the front lines of COVID response every single day, experiencing high stress levels and burnout, need access to mental health services more than ever. Getting rid of this discriminatory loophole and ensuring public service workers have equal access to mental health and substance abuse treatment is long overdue.”

The bill would end the option for important health care plans covering state and local government workers to choose not to provide parity regarding behavioral health care benefits versus traditional medical care benefits.

Plans that are self-insured and cover city and state workers, like public school teachers, police and firefighters can currently opt out of federal mental health parity requirements.

“This pandemic has exacted a brutal toll, including on the mental health of the front-line public service workers who have stepped up for our communities,” said AFSCME Local 2076 President Diana Corral. Local 2076 represents more than 1,400 dedicated public service workers in Orange County, California.

“Unfortunately, some health plans have denied these everyday heroes access to the affordable mental health care they deserve. This legislation is a key step in standing up for those who answer the call in their communities by trying to fix the loophole that allows certain health plans to discriminate against working people for seeking to take care of their mental health.”

AFSCME has endorsed the Closing Health Coverage Gaps for Public Servants Act along with other unions and leading community organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, The Kennedy Forum, March of Dimes, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), National Association for Behavioral Healthcare, Mental Health America (MHA), the School Social Work Association of America and more.