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Government News
Major Mental Health Parity Bill Clears Hurdle in House
Psychiatric News
Volume 42 Number 16 page 4-4

Mental health insurance parity legislation has begun to advance in the House of Representatives, with a committee's easy approval of a bill in July.

The House Education and Labor Committee voted 33-9 to support the Paul Wellstone Ment al Health and Addiction Equity Act of 2007 (HR 1424), which would grant greater access to mental health and addiction treatment by barring health insurers from placing discriminatory restrictions on treatment for mental health care.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), has bipartisan support and 268 cosponsors but faces opposition from many insurers and business groups.

"This bill is about treating people equally," Kennedy said at a hearing on the bill preceding the vote. "If you can get care for heart disease or cancer or diabetes out of network, but you can't get care for alcoholism or depression or PTSD out of network, that's not equal."

The committee rejected an amendment by Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) to replace the House bill's language with weaker provisions included in a Senate parity measure (S 558) sponsored by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) that requires less—stringent parity coverage than the House bill. The Senate bill does not, for example, require health plans to cover treatment of the entire range of mental health and substance use disorders included in the House version.

APA supports both bills, because either one would greatly expand federal parity requirements and thus improve access to mental health care. It is continuing, however, to work for inclusion of full parity provisions in bills from both chambers.

Both bills would build on the Mental Health Parity Act of 1996 by requiring group health plans that offer benefits for mental illness and substance abuse treatment to do so on the same terms as care for other diseases. The legislation would disallow insurance plans that charge higher copayments, coinsurance, deductibles, and maximum out-of-pocket limits and impose lower day and visit limits on mental health and substance abuse treatment.

The House legislation is modeled after the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program, which covers members of Congress and most federal workers and dependents and has mandated mental health care parity since 2001.

Two additional committees and possibly the full House are expected to consider the measure in September.

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