New Jersey public employees needing mental health counseling and care will receive the same insurance coverage as they would for any other illness, matching a recent change affecting municipal workers.
The change was made on September 20 by the state panel that oversees the benefits available to state, county, and municipal workers. Gov. Chris Christie announced the change yesterday. He also announced that four new lower-cost health plan options would be available to workers, as well as financial incentives of up to $250 annually for public employees to participate in wellness programs.
Christie had come in for criticism from some Democratic lawmakers for vetoing a bill, S-1253, that would have established mental health “parity,” requiring that alcoholism, other substance-use disorders and non-biologically based mental illnesses receive the same coverage as other diseases.
A long-standing state rule limited coverage to “biologically based” mental illnesses. This includes schizophrenia, depression, paranoia, and autism but left out a wide range of conditions such as eating and anxiety disorders and disorders resulting from sexual abuse and assault, as well as alcoholism and substance abuse. Mental health experts said there was no scientific distinction between the two groups of illnesses and that New Jersey’s provision was unique in the country.
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