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A Call for Mental Health Parity in Disability Policies

It is common for employees to obtain long-term disability coverage through their employment as an employee benefit. These policies are typically governed by a federal law called ERISA (this stands for the Employee Retirement Income Security Act). Having access to this coverage should provide comfort to employees in case the unthinkable happens: some life altering event that leaves you disabled and unable to continue working – physically or mentally.¬† However, typically insurance policies contain language that employees aren’t often aware. For example, most disability insurance policies limit¬†how long benefits will be paid for any conditions that the insurance company considers to be a “mental illness” or “mental health condition.” Most disability policies limit the maximum disability benefit period for mental health conditions to a maximum period of 24 months of benefits (although it is possible some policies have a shorter, or even longer, benefit period – every policy is different). Opposite of this, most policies have a much longer disability benefit period for conditions that are considered “physical” conditions (for example, most policies pay benefits to ages 65 or 67 for physical conditions).

Why is there such a disparity in how physical and mental conditions are treated by disability insurance carriers? There shouldn’t be – and other types of coverage (such as health insurance) do not have this disparity. However, action is now being taken to try and make this change for disability policies. The 2023 ERISA Advisory Council has taken a focus on this very issue this year. Their goal has been to “study the scope and impact of employee benefit plans’ limitations on disability benefits for mental health and substance use conditions.”

The ERISA Advisory Council has now urged Congress to pass legislation for mental health parity in disability policies. And, since this news, a large disability insurance carrier – Sun Life – has vocalized support for mental health parity. Sun Life, in a press release, stated:

There is a mental health crisis in America. Benefits designed 75 years ago and continued as a market tradition do not reflect today’s reality. We encourage others to join us in supporting efforts to evolve disability coverage to meet the current needs of American workers. We must do the right thing and ensure we are covering the conditions that need to be covered, so that workers can get the support and assistance they need. Getting people back to health and back to work whenever possible remains the goal, and providing good mental health benefits to bridge people through times when they can’t work is a good investment.

Support such as this is significant and cannot be emphasized enough. Mental health conditions should be given the same priority and review that physical conditions are given under ERISA disability policies. A known long-term disability insurance carrier supporting this legislation makes us hopeful there will be a shift in the future. All conditions and disabilities deserve the same recognition and protection – and disability insurance carriers should join the ERISA Advisory Council and Sun Life by recognizing that mental health matters and a change is needed to protect the American citizens that are provided this coverage with the belief that they will be protected long term in the event of any disability.

You can read the 2023 ERISA Advisory Council notice, as well as the Sun Life press release statement by clicking the links above.

If you have an employee benefit plan and questions regarding your coverage, call us today for a free consultation: (859) 225-3731. Any of our Partners are happy to speak with you!

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