CHN: House Passes Mental Health Parity Bill
Advocates applauded passage of the Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act (H.R. 1424) in the House on March 5. The bill passed with bipartisan support, 268-148. The Senate passed its version, the Mental Health Parity Act of 2007 (S. 558) last September. Both bills require equity in the provision of mental health and substance abuse services under group health plans, although the House bill is more extensive in its reach. For a review of the major differences in the bills see Human Needs Report, 10/1/07.
Next, the House and Senate bills must be reconciled, and this may prove to be a challenge. Some Senate lawmakers oppose going to conference out of a fear that the broader reaching provisions in H.R. 1424 will end up in a final bill and destroy their delicate agreement. The Bush Administration has also signaled opposition to any bill that expands mental health parity benefits beyond what is outlined in the Senate version. Senator Kennedy (D-MA), the leading Democratic sponsor of S. 558, has been in negotiations with his son Representative Kennedy (D-RI), who introduced H.R. 1424, to resolve this matter. Advocates hope for a speedy and meaningful compromise that places mental health parity on track to becoming law.