In recent years, the conversation surrounding mental health has gained momentum, prompting a closer examination of how mental health concerns are addressed across various facets of our lives. While strides have been made in ensuring mental health parity in health insurance policies, a critical area that has long been overlooked is disability insurance. Mental health parity, in essence, refers to the equal treatment of mental health conditions in comparison to physical health conditions. This concept has primarily found application in health insurance policies, but the recent developments within the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) Advisory Council shed light on the need for mental health parity in disability insurance.

The Department of Labor oversees the Employee Benefit Security Administration (EBSA), the entity responsible for regulating employee benefit plans. A crucial aspect of this administration is the Advisory Council on Employee Welfare and Pension Benefit Plans, known as the ERISA Advisory Council, a 15-member body offering insights and recommendations on policies and regulations affecting employee benefit plans governed by ERISA. Recently, the council delved into the realm of mental health parity in disability insurance policies.

The ERISA Advisory Council’s exhaustive study on mental health disparity in disability insurance culminated on Tuesday in a set of recommendations issued to the Acting Secretary of Labor. Notably, these recommendations included a strong call to end mental health disparity in disability insurance and urged the enactment of legislation on both federal and state levels mandating mental health parity in disability insurance.

One groundbreaking development that followed this call to action was the stance taken by major disability insurance carrier, Sun Life Financial. In a public statement issued on Tuesday, the insurance company endorsed the ERISA Advisory Council’s recommendations, signaling a potential turning point in the stance of major disability insurance carriers. Sun Life U.S. President, Dan Fishbein, MD stated:

Mental Health is health, unequivocally. Just as with physical conditions, mental health conditions can render a person unable to work. Disability insurance offers a level of income protection when someone cannot work due to illness or injury – but by tradition in the U.S. has typically only covered mental health conditions for two years… The ERISA Advisory Council today has recommended that Congress enact legislation to ensure mental health parity in disability insurance… As one of North America’s largest disability insurers, we support this important change. Mental health conditions should be covered by long-term disability [insurance] in the same way that physical conditions are. We encourage Congress to take up and pass appropriate legislation to make this happen.

The hope is that Sun Life Financial’s support will inspire other industry leaders to follow suit, ultimately fostering a more inclusive and equitable landscape for individuals dealing with mental health challenges.

The significance of extending mental health parity to disability insurance cannot be overstated. Mental health conditions are as valid and impactful as physical ailments, and acknowledging this fact in the disability insurance industry is a crucial step toward dismantling stigmas and ensuring comprehensive support for individuals facing mental health challenges. As discussions around mental health parity in disability insurance gain traction, it is essential for both the public and private sectors to collaborate in driving legislative changes that prioritize the well-being of all individuals, regardless of the nature of their health condition.

If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental health disability needs help navigations their long term disability claim, visit our contact page or call us at 608-257-0040. One of our long-term disability attorneys would be happy to help.

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Jessa Victor