“Until this year, the American health care system never adequately addressed mental health and substance disorder treatment and that has cost us dearly,” says LIUNA General Secretary Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni. “It has left families wounded and has diminished productivity. It has fostered waste and helped accelerate the overall rise in the cost of health care. We’ve suffered individually and as a society, but finally, we’re moving in the right direction.”

That direction is toward mental health parity and addiction equity, embodied in federal legislation that takes effect on the first of next year. The law opens new avenues of health care services for Laborers and their families, but it may also require adjustments in benefit plans for LIUNA health and welfare funds.

The law does not require a fund to offer mental health or addiction benefits, but if it does, it must provide these benefits on par (i.e., the same co-pays and limitations on service) with its medical benefits. The law takes effect January 1, 2010; however, plans maintained under collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) that were ratified before that date are not subject to the act until the CBA terminates.

Named after its leading Congressional proponents, Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici, the law aims to:

  1. End discrimination against people with mental illness or addictions, ensuring for them the same rights to care as people with medical or physical problems
  2. Remove limitations on the scope and level of coverage, making treatment more affordable, comprehensive, accessible and, in turn, effective
  3. Provide appropriate treatment that will result in improved attendance, concentration, teamwork, leadership and loyalty at work as well as reduced turnover, accidents, grievances and general medical costs
  4. Substantially curtail the waste of billions of dollars annually due to untreated conditions or misguided expenditures on unnecessary medical treatments

“As the first big step toward national health care reform, mental health parity and addiction equity is a new framework, and it’s a good one, both for these hard times and for our nation’s future,” says Sabitoni. “The new law will have a positive impact on Laborers, their families and the overall cost of health benefits. It will also help American employers be more productive and profitable.”