Governor Tom Vilsack today (Monday) signed a bill into law that forces insurance companies to cover seven “biologically-based” mental illnesses in policies medium and large businesses buy for their workers. Ellie Phillips of Des Moines has lobbied for the move for years, and she was at the statehouse for the bill signing ceremony. Phillips, an ex-school teacher, was diagnosed as “bipolar” 45 years ago. She is currently leading a mental health support group that meets weekly. Phillips says people in the group are directly affected by such policies. For example, one woman in the group recently moved to Minnesota because that state had a law like the one Iowa’s governor signed today. Phillips says another woman in the group last Saturday expressed relief the bill was becoming law because she might be able to get her insurance to pay for more counseling sessions. Phillips says the bill doesn’t go far enough, though, because it only applies to group insurance policies for companies with more than 50 employees. Lieutenant Governor Sally Pederson’s 21-year-old son, Ronald, is autistic, and she has also been lobbying for the bill. “We’ve been talking about opportunity and access for people with disabilities for a long time and we’ve made progress,” Pederson says. “Today is one more step in making progress to provide access to health care for people with mental illness.” Pederson says the bill helps remove the “stigma” of mental illness because state policy nows says it’s not O.K. to discriminate against people with mental illnesses when it comes to insurance. Pederson says 80 percent of the people with manic depression who seek treatment are cured. She says this is a crucial issue for younger people since suicide is the number one cause of death for Iowans between the ages of 14 and 25. Experts estimate the bill will affect the insurance policies that cover about 25 percent of Iowans.
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