CHN: Mental Health Parity Bill Moves in Congress
The House and Senate have both moved forward with mental health parity bills, the Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act of 2007 (H.R. 1424) and the Mental Health Parity Act of 2007 (S. 558). Both bills require group health plans that provide both medical and surgical benefits to provide mental health and substance-related disorder benefits on an equivalent basis. Ultimately, the bills hope to prevent any limitation of treatment or imposition of additional financial requirements for patients in need of mental health or substance abuse services.
S. 558, sponsored by Senator Pete V. Domenici (R-NM) passed unanimously in the Senate on September 18th. Representative Patrick J. Kennedy (D-RI) sponsored H.R. 1424, which was marked up by the House Ways and Means Committee on September 26th. Next, the Energy and Commerce Committee must consider the bill before it appears on the House floor.
H.R. 1424 includes a number of provisions that the Senate bill does not. The House measure allows coverage for out-of-network services for mental health and substance abuse benefits if a health plan covers out-of-network services for medical and surgical benefits. Additionally, H.R. 1424 defines what are considered mental illnesses, based on the American Psychiatric Association’s “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual”. The Senate version, on the other hand, allows insurers to define what is considered to be a mental illness, also allowing state law to decide whether certain conditions may be covered or not. House Republicans, with the backing of health insurers, favor this approach and hope it is adopted during conference. If passed, H.R. 1424 would go into effect on January 1st, 2008, whereas the Senate bill would go into effect one year after becoming a law.
The current Mental Health Parity Act of 1996, set to expire at the end of 2007, requires a far more limited parity between mental health and medical or surgical coverage than what is included in these bills. Advocates view these bills as vehicles for ending the discrimination that mental illness patients face and recognize the work that lies ahead to ensure that the President signs the provisions into law.