Here in the muddy trenches of ERISA law, we usually find ourselves condemning insurance providers for unfair benefit denials and disingenuous tactics designed to please shareholders at the expense of their customers’ wellbeing.
Today is not one of those days. Everyone in this field took notice earlier this month when Sun Life put out a press release endorsing the ERISA Advisory Council’s recommendation that Congress pass legislation requiring mental health parity in long-term disability insurance plans. We already have such parity in the area of health care insurance, but not in the disability insurance arena, where mental health disability benefits are usually severely limited as compared to physical disability benefits. It is not uncommon for disability insurance policies to limit benefits for mental health disabilities to 2 years, while physical disabilities are insured until age 65 or longer.
We’ve had differences of opinion with Sun Life in the past, to put it lightly, which makes this ringing endorsement all the more surreal. To its credit, Sun Life did not mince words in its press release either, including this key snippet:
“There is a mental health crisis in America. Benefits designed 75 years ago and continued as a market tradition do not reflect today’s reality. We encourage others to join us in supporting efforts to evolve disability coverage to meet the current needs of American workers.”
When most of your days are filled with cases involving shameful insurance company actions, you tend to react to news like this by asking yourself, “What’s their angle?” Strangely, their angle appears to be a level playing field in long-term mental health coverage across all U.S. insurance providers. As Sun Life notes in its press release:
“Any one company introducing this approach without a market-wide solution would immediately be uncompetitive. A legislative solution is therefore the best option, ensuring an equitable approach for all covered workers, while supporting a strong and sustainable market for disability insurance.”
A broken clock is right twice a day, and today we genuinely applaud Sun Life for its proactive support of this crucial, overdue legislation. We wholeheartedly agree that mental health parity will ultimately result in more people getting the critical financial assistance they need at a time when they can least afford to do without it, thus shoring up their positions as self-supporting members of society.
As Sun Life succinctly put it, “Mental health is health, unequivocally.” We agree!