Health legislation

Monday, July 12, 2004

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Two important bills -- one aimed at increasing access to mental health care, the other at reducing rates of hospital-acquired infection -- were signed into law by Gov. Bob Holden. ... But neither law is as good as it could -- or should -- have been. Politics is supposed to be the art of the possible. In the case of these two laws, lawmakers settled for the passable.

The mental health parity law prohibits insurance companies from charging different co-pays and enforcing different coverage limits for physical and mental illnesses. That common sense protection recognizes the biological basis of serious mental illness. ...

... To overcome ... objections, sponsors removed a provision that would have extended the same protections to substance abuse treatment. That's unfortunate. Substance abuse is a huge problem with a high cost to business. ...

Holden also signed a bill aimed at reducing hospital-acquired infections. For the first time, state officials will compile and distribute infection data. The law also standardizes infection control protocols at hospitals and surgery centers and gives the state authority to step in when a facility fails to use best practices.

Republican legislative leaders were rightly proud of the law. But they fell short of fully funding it. Setting up the system is expected to cost about $650,000. Lawmakers provided just $300,000. As a result, data collection won't start until January.

Public health advocates are pleased that the legislature took on these two important issues. It's just too bad it didn't finish the job.

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