Sometimes a legislative battle shapes the destiny of a nation.

While an epic struggle now unfolds around health care reform in the United States, another meaningful reform adopted last fall is already transforming the quality of our nation’s care. That is the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008.

The law has a simple premise: if you suffer with a mental, emotional or addiction problem, your needs are as great and as worthy of care as the physical injuries or illnesses of anyone else. You shouldn’t have to endure the indignity of special authorizations or limitations on benefits, and you shouldn’t have to pay more for your care. To put it plainly, if you’re sick, you’re sick, and health care insurance providers need to help you get well.

The Act takes effect on January first of next year, and it requires LIUNA health and welfare funds to reassess and, possibly, amend their benefits plans to conform to its provisions. While no fund is required to provide mental health or addiction benefits, those that do must offer them on the same terms – co-pays, restrictions, treatment limitations – as they offer medical care.

Undoubtedly, many trustees and administrators have questions about the impact that these new requirements may have on their cost and benefit structures. While each fund – in consultation with its advisors and attorneys – must make its own determination, it appears that any increased cost will be slight while overall improvements to care will be substantial. In this issue, our Health Promotion Division has prepared a thorough analysis to assist your local evaluation.

In another promising legislative advance, though on a different subject, we are happy to report that Nevada became the first state to require statewide OSHA 10-hour training for all workers and OSHA 30-hour training for all supervisors on all construction projects, public and private, no matter what their size.

This law builds on the legislative initiative of the Laborers in New England and New York – launched in 2002 – that requires OSHA 10-hour training on all state-funded construction projects. As many readers know, the Nevada law was spurred by a rash of preventable fatalities on the Las Vegas strip over the course of the past two years. After the shock of 12 deaths, everyone concerned was compelled to take action. With help from the LHSFNA’s Occupational Safety and Health Division, a safety evaluation and training program was implemented by CPWR – the Center for Construction Research and Training, and no further deaths have been recorded.

The sharp reversal of fortune on the Vegas Strip was no lucky roll of the dice. It resulted from a conscious effort by local unions, CPWR, our Fund, a humbled state OSHA, building contractors and worried owners who, together, unleashed the potential of an informed workforce through safety training.

We think the same can be achieved on a national level, and we urge Congress and federal OSHA to follow in Nevada’s footsteps.

In the United States as well as in Canada, legislation is often the way standards are codified for the good of society. Mental health parity and mandated safety training are two new laws that advance the common interests of American citizens and workers.