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POLITICAL INTEL GE/4CE Bedfellows Both Strange and Ordinary . EGADS! NIXON VS. TAB Houston Republican Rep. Joe Nixon is one of the last people you would expect to file legislation like House Bill 1941. The bill mandates that insurance companies cover serious mental illness the same way they insure physical ailmentsa concept known in policy shorthand as mental health parity. Advocates for the mentally ill have long labored for it. Parity could save thousands of lives by providing better, earlier treatment for patients with mental illness. While this may seem like common sense policy, formidable opponents such as the TAB and the insurance industry have long opposed the idea. They see parity as just another mandate from the state that will raise costs. Enter Nixon, an ideologue and loyal member of Speaker Tom Craddick’s leadership team. Nixon became a darling of the insurance industry and TAB last session when he sponsored and passed the mammoth tort reform bill and its accompanying constitutional amendment that remodeled the state’s civil justice code. Yet there was Nixon at an April 14th committee hearing, attacking the TAB and the insurance industry, and using his accumulated political capital to pass the mental health parity bill. In laying out HB 1941 to the House Subcommittee on Life and Health Insurance, Nixon pitched the legislation as pro-business. He told the committee that insuring those with mental illness prevents the disease from worsening and keeps people out of prison and out of the public mental health system. That saves the taxpayers money and provides employers with more productive workers. Mental health advocates have made these arguments many times before. They carried more weight, however, coming from a lawmaker with Nixon’s pro-business bonafides. Nixon had agreed to carry the bill in a meeting with local and state representatives from the Mental Health Association of Texas before the session. At the hearing, the TAB and the insurance industry, usually Nixon’s allies, lined up to testify against his bill. Devon Harrick from the National Center for Policy Research, a right-wing think tank in Dallas, told the committee that mandating mental health coverage would be too expensive. Harrick said that the TAB had asked him to testify. He maintained that patients with mental illness would abuse their coverage and spend insurance money on unnecessary treatments. “If I’m spending your money, I’m less frugal than when I’m spending my money,” Harrick intoned. Nixon promptly went on rhetorical attack. He noted that when insurance companies don’t cover mental illness and patients don’t get early treatment, those people often end up in prison or the public mental health system, where taxpayers must pay the tab at a much higher cost. Nixon continued: “So I guess when insurance companies don’t want to cover [mental illness], they’re essentially using state dollars to cover those costs, making insurance companies not frugal with taxpayer dollars. Would you agree with that?” Harrick seemed stunned for a moment. He eventually agreed that Nixon’s reasoning was “logical.” Nixon saved some of his most revealing sentiments for his closing remarks to the committee, which left the bill pending. “Early intervention saves money and saves lives,” he said. “You know, it’s very easy for Republicans to say ‘unfunded mandate.’ You just have to use buzzwords. ‘This is an unfunded mandate.’ It’s easy for us to say that and to simply not think beyond the words. But let’s think now beyond those words, just for a moment.” Nixon explained that companies and states that have instituted mental health parity experienced lower costs and greater productivity. “Those are Republican themes,” Nixon said. “This is good for business. I would assert to you that this is a very Republican bill. ” Interjected committee chair Gene know this was a Republican-Democrat bill.” “Some of those comments were directed to my good friends at the Texas Association of Business,” Nixon said. “In case they didn’t get the hint.” He labeled the insurance industry’s opposition to the bill “disingenuous,” and said he was angry that TAB and the industry still opposed the legislation after he worked to gain their support. \(Nixon and advocates reduced the number of mental illnesses covered in the “By not covering this themselves at a reasonable cost, [insurance companies] are allowing the taxpayers to pick up the burden at a much higher cost. And guess what? That helps them and their profits… [mental health parity] is good public policy, and we shouldn’t waste this opportunity.” Now, Joe, have we mentioned those Children’s Health Insurance Program cuts? ANDY’S MONEY MACHINE Republican Ober-attorney Andy Taylor recently registered as a lobbyist for eight wealthy Texans who want lawmakers to “clarify” Texas’ prohibition on corporate political contributions \(See “Taylor-Made Electhat the magnates will pay him up to $140,000 for his well-connected services. The deep pockets footing this bill are: homebuilder Bob Perry; real estate magnates Ned Holmes, Vance Miller, and Michael Stevens; bankers Charles McMahen and Walter Mischer; lobbyist Fred Zeidman; and Louis Beecherl. 4 THE TEXAS OBSERVER APRIL 29, 2005