Legislature(1997 - 1998)

03/12/1998 09:10 AM Senate FIN

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SENATE CONCURRENT RESOLUTION NO. 14                                            
Establishing the Alaska Task Force on Parity for Mental                        
CS FOR SENATE CONCURRENT RESOLUTION NO. 14(HES)                                
Establishing the Alaska Task Force on Parity for Mental                        
WALTER MAJOROS, Executive Director of the Alaska Mental                        
Health Board, was invited by Co-Chair Sharp to speak to this                   
resolution.  Mr. Majoros told the committee of the great                       
deal of support for this effort.                                               
He summarized the background of the Mental Health Parity                       
issue.  Nine out of ten insurance companies treat mental                       
health differently than they treat physical health.  A                         
federal act has been enacted, and although it has brought                      
about some improvement, there is still great disparity.                        
Fifteen states have already passed their own mental health                     
parity laws and several other states are in the process of                     
adopting similar legislation.  This resolution is part of                      
Alaska's efforts to achieve equity.                                            
He then provided some specifics on the resolution.  It would                   
establish a task force to address the mental health care                       
issue.  He described the make-up of the committee membership                   
and detailed some other aspects of the committee. He pointed                   
out that the task force would require no General Funds for                     
inception or operation.  The measure has been pre-funded by                    
the Mental Health Trust Authority.                                             
The committee then heard public testimony on the resolution.                   
BILL HERMAN via teleconference from ANCHORAGE, Planner for                     
the Mental Health Trust Authority voiced his support for SCR
ROBYN HENRY via teleconference from ANCHORAGE, member of                       
National Alliance for the Mentally Ill-Alaska told the                         
committee about the issues and how they effect folks                           
personally.  She pledged NAMI-AK's support for the task                        
force.  The organization is willing to provide research and                    
JEANETTE GRASTCO via teleconference from FAIRBANKS,                            
President of the Fairbanks Alliance for the Mentally Ill                       
supported the resolution.  She called the treatment of                         
mentally ill patients different from physically ill                            
patients, discriminatory.  She referred to the zero fiscal                     
note and said she felt that needed to be looked at.  She                       
told the committee about her children, and other young                         
people she knows, who suffer from mental illness.  Although                    
with proper treatment, they are able to lead normal lives,                     
they face high medical bills because their insurance does                      
not adequately cover the costs.                                                
FRANCES CATER via teleconference from KODIAK, member of the                    
Kodiak Alliance for the Mentally Ill said she supported SCR
14.  She talked about the lifetime cap many insurance                          
policies impose and how they are often reached after just                      
one hospital stay.  Also, people with a mental illness are                     
often denied coverage for any new health insurance plans.                      
She shared her experiences as a full time volunteer with                       
BETH LACROSSE via teleconference from KETCHIKAN, Secretary                     
of NAMI-AK and President of Ketchikan Alliance for the                         
Mentally Ill, testified against the current insurance                          
discrimination.  She spoke of the public disdain shown                         
mental illness.  She referred to studies proving most mental                   
illnesses are biological. She made comparisons to mental                       
illness insurance coverage and coverage for physical                           
illness.  She said the costs for treating a mental illness                     
are less that those to treat most any other ailment.                           
SYBIL SKELTON via teleconference from FAIRBANKS, testified                     
in favor of SCR 14.  She told the committee she suffers from                   
a mental illness but with proper treatment is able to lead a                   
normal life.  She said people with a mental illness                            
shouldn't be made to feel ashamed.  She talked about her                       
experience working in a mental hospital.  According to her,                    
most mental illnesses don't show up on laboratory tests.                       
She indicated her desire to serve on the task force when it                    
is formed.                                                                     
LORRAINE DERR, representing the Alaska State Hospital and                      
Nursing Home Association, testified in person.  Her                            
organization supports the task force and subsequent                            
This concluded public testimony.                                               
Co-Chair Sharp noted the zero fiscal note and asked that a                     
revised version be prepared to show an explanation about the                   
grant from the Mental Health Trust Authority.  He felt this                    
would avoid confusion when the resolution is presented on                      
the Senate floor.                                                              
Senator Torgerson had a question for Mr. Majoros.  He wanted                   
to know why a seat on the task force was designated for a                      
staff member from Congress.  Mr. Majoros explained that                        
portion was not part of the original version of the                            
resolution but was added by the Senate Health and Social                       
Services Committee.  The reason for including a                                
congressional staff member was to help the group with the                      
continuing federal regulation changes.  The MHTA accepted                      
this amendment.                                                                
Senator Torgerson voiced his opposition to having a member                     
of Congress' staff hold a voting seat on the task force.  He                   
said he would prefer to have a health care provider or a                       
consumer hold that seat.  Senator Parnell agreed.  There was                   
discussion between Senators Torgerson, Parnell, Phillips and                   
Mr. Majoros regarding the number of seats the task force                       
should contain.                                                                
Senator Torgerson offered an amendment to omit the                             
congressional staff seat and increase to two, the number of                    
seats held by health care providers.  There was no objection                   
and Co-Chair Sharp ordered the amendment adopted.                              
Senator Phillips made a motion to move Senate Finance                          
Committee's substitute for SCR 14 out of committee with                        
accompanied fiscal note with notations.  There was no                          
objection and Co-Chair Sharp so ordered.                                       

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