Private sector health and retirement plans in New Jersey and around the country must meet standards put into place by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. The landmark 1974 federal law also established the Council on Employee Welfare and Pension Benefit Plans, which is also known as the ERISA Advisory Council, to advise the secretary of labor on these matters. On Dec. 12, the ERISA advisory council advised the secretary of labor to require disability insurance plans to treat mental health conditions in the same way they treat physical health conditions. The advisory body also called on Congress and state legislatures to pass laws establishing mental health parity.
Mental health parity
The president of Sun Life U.S., which is of one of the nation’s largest providers of employee benefits, released a statement supporting the ERISA Advisory Council’s position just hours after the advisory body submitted its recommendations. Mental health issues can leave people unable to work and earn a living, but they are only covered for two years by most ERISA disability plans. If the ERISA Advisory Council’s recommendations are acted upon, ERISA disability plans will treat mental health conditions in the same way that health insurance plans do. The American Council of Life Insurers has released a statement that opposes the ERISA Advisory Council’s position.
Government action needed
The statement released by Sun Life U.S. says that mental health parity will only be achieved if the government takes action. If insurers act without a government mandate, their plans would become uncompetitive according to the statement. The ACLI says that mandating mental health parity would make all ERISA disability plans more expensive.
Costs and benefits
ERISA disability plans provide benefits to employees who are unable to work because of illness or injury, but mental health conditions are only covered for two years. The ERISA Advisory Council has urged lawmakers to establish mental health parity in ERISA disability plans, and their position is supported by one of the country’s largest employee benefits providers. However, a group that lobbies on behalf of the insurance industry opposes the ERISA Advisory Council’s position on mental health parity.