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Government News
Bill Would End Medicare’s Discriminatory MH Copayment
Psychiatric News
Volume 38 Number 9 page 16-16

The elderly would pay a 20 percent copayment rather than the current 50 percent copayment for outpatient psychiatric visits under the new Medicare Mental Health Copayment Equity Act of 2003 (S 853).

APA president Paul Appelbaum, M.D., praised the bill, which was introduced by Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and John Kerry (D-Mass.) last month. The bill was referred to the Senate Finance Committee.

"This legislation helps fulfill APA’s historic efforts to end Medicare’s discriminatory outpatient coverage of treatment for mental illness," said Appelbaum in a statement released by APA. "It gets us to where we need to go in a way that is fully responsive to the needs of Medicare beneficiaries while being fiscally responsible, given Medicare’s budget picture."

Moreover, he added, "It’s a creative approach to problem solving that amply warrants our thanks and strong support."

The Medicare Mental Health Copayment Equity Act of 2003 would amend title XVIII of the Social Security Act and reduce the 50 percent copayment for mental health services to 20 percent over six years.

Mental illness is a major health problem for the nation’s elderly. According to a report by the U.S. surgeon general, up to 20 percent of older adults and nearly 40 percent of older adults in primary care settings in this country experience symptoms of depression, according to the statement.

The elderly also have the highest suicide rate in the nation, and the risk of suicide increases with age (see story on page 9).

"The current Medicare system imposes a policy of discrimination by diagnosis that inflicts a heavy toll on Medicare patients, who, by no fault of their own, happen to suffer from mental illness. This is a shameful policy to have written into federal law," said Appelbaum.

He continued, "This legislation would end this statutory discrimination by requiring that Medicare patients pay only the same 20 percent copayment for mental illness treatment that they pay when they seek any other medical treatment, including, for example, treatment for diabetes, cancer, heart disease, or the common cold."

He commended Snowe and Kerry for their "tireless dedication to ending discrimination against persons struggling with mental illness. We pledge to work with them and all members of Congress to see that this landmark bill becomes our national law," said Appelbaum.

The Medicare Mental Health Copayment Equity Act can be accessed on the Web at http://thomas.loc.gov by searching on the bill number S 853.

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