New California Law Requires that Short-Term Disability Policies Provide Coverage for Severe Mental Illness

In a victory for insurance consumers and mental health advocates, a recent change to the California Insurance Code mandates that short-term disability insurance policies provide coverage for “severe mental illnesses” as that term is defined in the Insurance Code.

Passed in 2013, and signed in to law by Governor Jerry Brown on October 4, 2013, Assembly Bill No. 402 (“AB 402”) added Section 10144.55 to the Insurance Code, effective July 1, 2014. Section 10144.55 requires that every disability insurance policy with “a short-term limited duration of two years or less,” provide coverage for disabilities caused by severe mental illnesses. Section 10144.55(b) defines “severe mental illnesses” as schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness), major depressive disorders (including postpartum depression), panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), pervasive developmental disorder (autism), anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa.

AB 402 was introduced by California Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, and passed the California Assembly by a 57-12 vote. When the Bill was being considered by the California Senate Insurance Committee, Assemblymember Ammiano argued that:

[A]ccording to the 2010 United States census, approximately 1.2 million adults live with serious mental illness. Most of these adults continue to work right through their mental illness utilizing sick days on occasion when symptoms are severe. Occasionally, employees may need a longer period of time to adequately recover from a severe mental illness or transition onto a new medication. California State Disability Insurance can pay for a portion of an employee’s salary, but to keep the employee’s income whole, many rely on short term disability income insurance to make up the remaining lost wages and allow an injured person to continue paying mortgage, rent, tuition and car payments, as well as help cover expenses for food, child care and utilities. When these policies exclude coverage for mental illness or injury, these families are left with the decision of working against their doctor’s orders and placing employers and fellow employees at risk or facing often unmanageable financial burdens.

Following the passage of California’s Mental Health Parity Act (“Parity Act”), California already required that health insurance policies provide the same coverage for severe mental illnesses as other health issues. Now, with the passage of AB 402 and the addition of Section 10144.55 to the Insurance Code, California workers with short-term disability policies that are issued, amended or renewed on or after July 1, 2014 will have coverage if a “severe mental illness” temporarily prevents them from returning to work.

Filing a disability claim can be a complex and daunting progress, especially when the claimant suffers from a mental illness. Accordingly, it is absolutely crucial that claimants seek the advice of attorneys who have knowledge and experience in this highly specialized area of law. The attorneys at McKennon Law Group PC specialize in handling and litigating disability insurance claims, including short-term disability insurance claim and mental health claims.

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