1 of 1
Rich Pedroncelli, Associated Press
Assemblyman Jim Beal,l, D- San Jose, left, receives congratulations from Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D- Los Angeles, after the his bills intended to broaden the mental health and health care services covered by private insurance plans, was approved by the Assembly, at the Capitol, in Sacramento, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 26, 2012. Lawmakers approved AB154 which would require insurers to cover the diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses, and AB171 for developmental disorders such as autism and sent them to the Senate for a vote.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The state Assembly on Thursday passed a set of bills intended to broaden the mental health and health care services covered by private insurance plans.

Lawmakers approved AB154, which would require insurers to cover the diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses, and AB171 for coverage of developmental disorders such as autism. They also approved legislation to cover oral chemotherapy treatments and mammograms regardless of age.

The bills now move to the Senate ahead of a Tuesday deadline to pass legislation that was introduced last year.

Supporters say many people with mental illness and substance abuse problems are unable to obtain treatment and end up in public health care programs, emergency rooms and state and county jails.

"The bill is a cost-effective way to help people who are paying for health insurance actually to get (the) full-scope health insurance they need," said Assemblyman Jim Beall, a San Jose Democrat who authored the mental health and autism bills. "Mental health and substance abuses are treatable, and treatment reduces incarceration, homelessness, and most importantly human suffering."

Getting people treated earlier also will save taxpayer money, he said.

Republican lawmakers said the legislation will drive up insurance costs, particularly as government broadens the definition of mental illness.

"Our insurance rates will increase because of this clandestine broadening of the coverage," said Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber. "And I think you're further legitimizing drug abuse and encouraging it even more."

The mental health bill passed 47-18 vote while the autism bill passed on 45-13.

The Assembly also approved AB137, which would require insurance plans to cover mammograms, regardless of the patient's age. It was passed 67-0.

Lawmakers passed AB1000 requiring insurance companies to cover oral chemotherapy treatments at the same rate they cover intravenous chemotherapy. The bill passed 51-15.

Comment on this story

Henry Perea, D-Fresno, said he was inspired to change the law after meeting other patients as he accompanied his mother to intravenous chemotherapy treatments. He said many of them had to travel long distances from rural areas to medical centers, even though there are pill forms of chemotherapy drugs available for 57 types of cancer.

For some patients, co-payments for the pill form of treatment ran as high as $10,000 a month, but they paid only an office-visit co-pay for an intravenous treatment, Perea said.

Assemblyman Dan Logue, R-Linda, said the bill would "increase the price and premiums for the people of California," and said the legislation was premature. Perea's office said 13 other states and the District of Columbia already have adopted similar laws.

Associated Press writer Juliet Williams contributed to this report.