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Mentally ill catch a break Pataki should sign bill providing parity in health insurance coverage

In a recent do-nothing legislative session, the Assembly did something right by approving Timothy's Law for parity-based mental health and chemical dependency insurance.

Now, outgoing Gov. George E. Pataki must act quickly and sign it into law.

Previous and more comprehensive versions of the legislation had passed the Assembly, though the latest incarnation had yet to gain approval. With compromises woven in, the Senate passed Timothy's Law in September, the first time they had passed the bill. And so did the Assembly.

The law creates a mental-health benefits structure composed of two mandates for large employers and a subsidized mandate paired with a "subscriber option" for the same coverage for groups with 50 or fewer employees.

All employers that offer health insurance and are not exempt under federal or state law will have to provide broad-based mental-health coverage including at least 20 outpatient days and 30 inpatient days, with co-payments and deductibles comparable to those used for physical ailments. This represents the financial parity that so many had been without.

Exclusions are virtually nonexistent and there are significant provisions for the care of children.

If a lame-duck governor chooses within the next few days to sign this piece of legislation, New York will be able to remove itself as one of the few states that does not mandate mental-health insurance parity.

Many states have amended, strengthened and improved upon mental-health parity legislation, rather than rolling back progress on such vital protections. Fears about cost increases for businesses have been unfounded, according to experts. Of course, there's always going to be someone available to dispute anecdotal evidence.

This legislation is pro-family, a point an ambitious governor considering a run for president should consider. Pataki should attach his signature to Timothy's Law as one of his final and most conscientious actions as governor.

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