Timothy's Law - for Parity-based Mental Health & Chemical Dependency insurance coverage
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Small Businesses for Timothy’s Law

Open Letter to Small Business Owners from Susan Wheeler, Chair of Small Businesses for Timothy's Law

Dear Fellow Business Owner:

As business owners, we are well aware of the increasingly exorbitant cost of providing health insurance to our employees. These costs can bring us dangerously close to the break-even point, and often prevent us from providing our employees with the benefits we know they need. Indeed, when new benefits are proposed, we often just want to scream in exasperation and say, “Enough, I can’t afford what I am paying for as it is!”

However, did you ever stop to think about how much more it costs you to not provide generous health insurance to your employees?

Many large businesses have now determined that providing their employees high quality health insurance, with generous benefits, is actually better for their bottom line than providing health insurance with lower benefits. These businesses have learned from experience that providing employees with employees access to the services and treatment they need, when they need it, greatly reduces the costs associated with absenteeism and lost productivity.

And when it comes to mental health and chemical dependency, the same holds true. Companies like American Airlines, AT&T, Delta Air Lines, Dow, Dupont, Eastman Kodak, Federal Express, General Motors, IBM, Pepsico, Pfizer and Xerox offer mental health benefits that far exceed the mandated minimum requirements that smaller employers like me offer. These larger businesses are trying to reduce the amount of money they lose to absenteeism, tardiness, preoccupation, distraction and dysfunction among employees with mental health needs. As a whole, mental illness costs US businesses $79 billion annually in lost productivity.

In a recent interview with National Public Radio on the costs of depression, the former-Director of Benefits Strategies at Delta Airlines, Dr. Miles Snowden, said, “For every $1.00 that we have spent in providing behavioral health benefits, we are getting $1.50 back in terms of reduced absence from work and improved productivity.”

It’s also important to note that businesses that offer generous mental health and chemical dependency insurance benefits experience lower usage rates of health care services altogether. In fact, when a large Connecticut corporation implemented a 30% cost reduction in mental health services, it triggered a 37% increase in medical care use and sick leave by employees using mental health services, thus costing the corporation more money rather than less. Indeed, former-US Surgeon General David Satcher was right when he said, “There is no health without mental health.”

Large employers aren’t the only businesses losing money to the mental health needs of employees. When it comes to smaller employers, we are actually at higher risk of being negatively effected by mental health needs and stand to be hurt more than larger employers. NYS Assemblymember Joel Miller (R-Poughkeepsie), a dentist and small business operator for 35 years explains that, “Small businesses do not have the depth in the number of employees to be able to fill in for the worker who is being a good parent or family member. If an employee is distracted by their mental health needs or those of their family, they aren’t a productive worker, and the business suffers. Small businesses really can’t afford to not provide this coverage.”

To get an idea of how much mental illness is costing my business, I recently used the ‘Depression Calculator’ available on-line through the MacArthur Initiative on Depression and Primary Care at Dartmouth & Duke (http://www.depression-primarycare.org/organizations/employers/calculator/). With seven employees, they estimate that depression, alone, causes my business to lose twelve work days each year to poor-at-work productivity and nine work days each year to absenteeism. They estimate this costs my business $810 annually.

On top of the fact that small businesses like ours are losing money to mental health needs, our businesses also suffer because of the distinct competitive advantage many large employers hold over us when it comes to recruiting and retaining highly qualified employees. In addition to the often higher salaries that larger organizations are able to offer, a better health benefit package makes working for one of these larger employers that much more attractive than working for smaller businesses like ours.

So, how much would it cost us small employers to provide our employees with better mental health benefits so that we have a healthier workforce and we are able to eliminate the disadvantage we face? According to the actuarial firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers, providing more generous mental health and chemical dependency treatment benefits would cost an additional $1.26 per person per month in health insurance premiums. This $1.26 would ensure that mental health and chemical dependency benefits equal to the other health services covered under all insurance policies. Not only do I think that $1.26 per month is an adequate investment in my employees and their families, but the long term benefits of a healthier workforce will help my business grow and help level the playing field with larger employers.

It may seem odd that as a small business owner, I support a health insurance mandate. But the most basic rule of insurance is to spread risk over the largest pool possible. If all insurance policies provided parity-based mental health and chemical dependency benefits, all businesses would benefit in the long-run from the increase in productivity and the reduction of absenteeism.

Therefore, as a small business owner, I am joining Assemblyman Miller and others in supporting efforts to enact what has now become known as Timothy’s Law. The bill is named in memory of Timothy O’Clair, a 12 year-old Schenectady boy who took his own life nearly four years ago after his parents were unable to get him the mental health services he needed. The law currently allows insurance companies to limit the coverage they provide for mental health and chemical dependency services. Timothy’s Law would require all health insurance policies to cover benefits for mental health and chemical dependency services and treatments equal to the benefits provided for other health conditions, like diabetes, cancer or others.

In the case of Timothy’s father, Tom, his employer lost over 800 hours of work time as he struggled to get his son the services he needed. That number says nothing of his decreased productivity at work, as he was preoccupied with his son’s condition. Not only that, but Tom and his wife were forced to grapple with relinquishing custody of Timothy to the county so that he could access services as a Medicaid recipient. This was devastating to the family and placed the burden of providing care on the individuals and businesses that pay taxes in New York.

For additional information on Timothy’s Law see our The Facts About Timothy's Law page.

I ask you to join me as a ‘Small Business for Timothy’s Law’ and support efforts to enact Timothy’s Law. If you would lend the name of your business to this effort, we can work together towards the creation of a better, stronger workforce that will, in turn, help us grow into better, stronger businesses.

Email me at SWheelerStarGrp@aol.com to join 'Small Businesses for Timothy's Law'.

Thank you for your consideration.


Susan Wheeler
Owner, The Star Group
Chair, Small Businesses for Timothy's Law