The Mental Health Parity Act of 1996 requires that mental health treatments receive parity with other kinds of treatments under a group health insurance plan. It means that the same amounts be designated for mental health treatments as the amounts allocated for all other kinds of treatment, so that an employee can receive the same kind of care if he or she suffers from a psychological ailment that he or she does in case of a physical problem.
Under Arizona employee benefit, an employer is free to decide whether to include mental health coverage as a part of the group health insurance or not. Before the enactment of the MHPA in 1996, an employer who chose to include mental health coverage could also decide what amounts to allocate to it. As a consequence, a health insurance plan could have a provision of a million dollars for surgery, but a meager thousand dollars for mental health. Needless to say, these amounts were never enough for good mental treatment.
At the time of its enactment, the MHPA was supposed to expire in 2001. But every time it neared expiry, it was amended and its tenure extended. Thus it has been amended five times, the last of which took place in February 2007. Now, it is meant to last till December 2007. The employees should have their fingers crossed for it to be extended again, or be replaced by another law that is meant to stay for good, since it is in their collective benefit.
The greater part of American workers with insurance is covered by employee benefit plans. The federal government has a dedicated agency to enforce the laws regarding employee benefits and pension plans. It is called the Employee Benefits Security Administration, or EBSA. Approximately, a little more than 150 million workers are covered under EBSA plans. As is apparent from its name, the agency handles as many violations of law concerning health care as pensions.
We were just talking about the new workers’ comp rate change in the Bay State of Massachusetts, and now we have more workers’ comp news to share with you—this time coming out of the state of Arizona. There a heated debate that has lasted for years between law makers, employers, employee groups, insurance companies, and other stake holders has finally, seemingly, been settled. The debate has always been over how much of a benefit workers should get in Arizona when they get injured or ill on the job.
Perhaps what has spurred on the compromise is the fact, say my expert sources, that the labor unions had worked out a plan to put a workers’ comp benefit increase on the ballot in the coming election. Remember, it was just last November when such a ballot initiative was passed in the state that raised the Arizona minimum wage. So the employers and insurance groups are sure to remember that as well.
Plus, according to some, there is good economic sense to increasing the current Arizona workers’ comp benefits rates. They are currently the lowest in the nation, and supposedly have not been changed for years. That leaves workers who get hurt on the job legitimately in big trouble economically if the benefits do not allow them to make ends meet. That, say opponents of the current workers’ comp rates, defeats the purpose of workers’ comp.
The whole purpose of workers’ comp—and here is my Labor Law 101 lecture now—is to provide a pay substitute for employees that get hurt or ill legitimately from something that happened while they were on the job, which in many cases disables them and prevents them from returning to work permanently or temporarily. The workers’ comp benefit is meant to do just that—compensate the accident victim for their lost wages. Meanwhile, the systems generally work as a no fault system, which means employers get something out of this equation too—they cannot then be sued by an employee for negligence if that employee accepts the workers’ comp benefits.
To reform the Arizona workers’ comp system, the employers, insurance companies, labor groups, law makers, and all other important stake holders have agreed to raise the limit of the workers’ comp benefit—but to do so in stages. The current maximum monthly benefit is $2400, and that would be raised to $3000 per month for the year 2008, for workers injured on or after Jan. 1, 2008.
Then for the year 2009, for those employers injured or made ill at work on or after Jan. 1, 2009, the maximum monthly limit would be increased to a total of $3600. When the year 2010 comes around, the whole system of a max cap would be gotten rid of altogether, and the maximum amount a worker could get per month would then be based on what the average wage has gone up in the state of Arizona. (The new law, however, would limit any annual increases to the maximum monthly benefit to no more than 5 percent.) Then the benefit would be figured off that total by taking two thirds of it.
This changes also come at a time when the state of Arizona is seeing improvements in workplace safety and improved worker concerns, including the use of safety posters and safety handouts. These trends are shown in the amount of workers’ comp claims filed in the last couple of years. In 2004, there were more than 25,000 claims, whereas in 2005, there were only 123,864 claims.
These new proposed changes could be made into law as early as next week, when the state legislature is due to take up the final bill.
The continuation of medical coverage is an important consideration when an employee goes on leave under the Arizona FMLA law. Most workers pay their health insurances through payroll deductions, but when they are on unpaid leave, they stop paying. A common way to solve this problem is to make an agreement that the employer will continue paying the insurance premiums. The employee must repay the employee with salary deductions when they return to work.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a law that protects employees from losing their jobs when they have to take time off to deal with an emergency. Prior to the enactment of this law, an employee could lose their job if he or she had to leave the workplace to attend to a personal or family crisis. Under certain conditions, the FMLA allows the worker to take up to 12 weeks per year of unpaid leave. Some of the situations that are covered by the law are health emergencies (of the employee, a parent or a child), the birth of a baby, and the placement of a foster child.
At this time of year, with Father’s Day and Mother’s Day, it’s a great time to keep the FMLA laws in mind. Posters with information on the benefits must be placed at a visible location in every office in the country. Nobody is exempt from family emergencies or hard times. Anyone can have an accident or become ill. This law exists to protect our jobs in times of trial.
The law usually referred to as the Arizona FMLA is actually a federal law. Some other states have opted to adopt separate FMLA laws. Often, those laws offer greater job protection or even paid benefits for workers on leave. In other states, FMLA laws extend similar benefits to state workers. Time spent on active military duty also counts towards hours at work to qualify for FMLA.
If you’re an employer, you might want to double check your Arizona employee benefit package, in light of a new federal law.
The MHPA bill was recently extended to December 31, 2007. Originally, the MHPA bill passed in 1996 included a provision to expire on September 30, 2001. However, the law has been amended 5 times, extending it. Recently the MHPA was again extended and it’s a safe bet that this law will be with us for many years. Under the MHPA, mental health treatments must receive parity with other types of treatment.
Most group health insurance plans today offer some coverage for mental health treatments. Usually these include visits to a licensed therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist. They may also include stints in rehab for drug or alcohol dependency. Stays in mental hospitals or the mental health wing of a hospital for ailments as diverse as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and schizophrenia are also covered.
Before the MHPA was passed in 1996, many group health care plans set low annual limits for mental health treatments. A health insurance plan that paid up to $150,000 per year for surgery might pay only $1,750 per year for mental health treatment. Today, that would be illegal. The plan would have to pay the same amount for both types of treatment. In other words, a plan that sets a $150,000 annual limit on surgery would also have to pay up to $150,000 per year for mental health treatments.
The federal government has a specials agency to enforce law regarding employee benefits and pension plans, the Employee Benefits Security Administration, or ESBA. Most Americans with insurance are covered by employee benefit plans. More than 150 million workers are covered under ESBA plans. The current name reflects the reality that the agency now handles as many violations of law concerning health care as pensions.
In the state of Arizona, employers have a couple other steps in the unemployment insurance benefit process that are important and that they should know about. These “other” steps go beyond what we normally think of as the employer’s role in the whole unemployment process—which is as the company that lays off the employee.
After you lay off the employee, though, there is a step that follows that includes the state of Arizona sending you a form in the mail called the “Notice to Employer.” This form is sent out to the last employer of every former worker who is now seeking unemployment benefits. This form lists the reason that your former worker gave for leaving work, as well as the date that the worker gave as their last.
This Notice to Employer form allows you the chance to correct those facts if they are not correct. But you have to make sure to fill out this form in order to get your voice heard as the former employer. You have 10 days in the state of Arizona to provide this form back to the proper state authorities. If you don’t have anything to add to the form, then you don’t have to return it.
But let’s say that the unemployment insurance claimant wasn’t even ever one of your workers, you would want to send back that form. Or let’s say that you know that the claimant worked for another company after leaving you, that’s another reason to send back that form.
Another sure-fire reason to fill out the Notice to Employer form and return it in 10 days is if the claimant actually resigned, quit, retired, or otherwise abandoned their job at your company on their own, rather than you cutting them. Or if you fired the employee—rather than let them off because of lack of work or staff cutbacks—you may want to send the form in.