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The Story Behind Timothy's Law

Timothy O'Clair (1988-2001) photo: Tom O'Clair
by Don Cruise

Timothy's Law is named after Timothy O'Clair, a Schenectady boy who committed suicide in 2001, seven weeks before his 13th birthday. His suicide was attributed to the discrimination that he faced at the hands of his parent's insurance company, discrimination that exists throughout every private insurance plan in New York State.

In order to help prevent other families from having to live through this scenario, the O'Clair family has taken on a personal crusade to change the laws as they relate to the provision of mental health and substance abuse services in private insurance plans throughout New York. This extremely courageous and selfless act has resulted in what we now know as Timothy's Law, legislation that would prevent this discrimination by prohibiting insurance companies from limiting coverage for mental illness and substance abuse disorders.

The O’Clairs' experience is not unique. Every private insurance policy in New York limits the amount of inpatient and outpatient coverage provided for mental health and substance abuse services or requires additional co-payments from the insured. Simply put, these policies discriminate in the coverage they provide based upon diagnosis of mental illness or substance abuse disorder.

In an effort to eliminate this discrimination, Timothy’s Law goes beyond the Federal Mental Health Act, enacted in 1996 and renewed again in 2002, to completely eliminate discriminatory and unequal insurance coverage for mental health and substance abuse services by insurance companies. Timothy’s Law mandates that insurance providers covering any health care services must also provide coverage for mental health and substance abuse services, and that coverage and cost must be ‘on par’ with all other health care services covered under such policy.

In 2002, PricewaterhouseCoopers conducted an actuarial study on similar legislation regarding the estimated cost to mandate such coverage in insurance policies. Based upon the prior experiences of thrity-four other states that have already passed some form of parity, the actuarial studies conducted on the implementation of parity in those other states, and the particular circumstances of New York, the final report estimated the cost of implementing mental health and substance abuse parity legislation at $1.26 per insured person per month. Had mental health and substance abuse parity been the law, it would have cost $1.26 per month to provide Timothy with the mental health service coverage he needed, rather than charging his parents hundreds of dollars per month. More importantly, Timothy would have received the services he needed and most likely would be here today.

(From the Timothy's Law website)

Additional Information
  • Senate Passes "Timothy's Law" To Provide Mental Health Parity
  • Facts About Timothy’s Law
  • Timothy’s Story

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