Administration Signals Willingness To Negotiate a Compromise on Mental Health Parity Legislation
The Bush administration is sending signals to members of Congress that it is willing to negotiate a compromise on mental health parity legislation, CongressDaily reports. Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), a cosponsor with Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) of a parity measure that did not pass last year, is talking with administration officials with the hope of passing the legislation by the end of April, congressional and White House aides said (Fulton, CongressDaily, 3/21). House negotiators dropped a Senate-passed mental health parity amendment from the fiscal year 2002 budget last December. The amendment, introduced originally as a separate bill (S 543), would have required insurers that provide mental health coverage to offer those benefits at the same level as the benefits provided for physical health coverage with respect to both costs (such as deductibles) and access to services. It would have expanded the 1996 mental health parity law, which only prohibited insurers from establishing annual lifetime limits on mental health benefits that differed from those applied to other medical care (California Healthline, 3/14). Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said mental health parity would be one of his "key priorities" on the floor after the spring recess, even if negotiators do not reach a deal with the White House. In the House, Reps. Marge Roukema (R-N.J.) and Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) "plan to work together" with Domenici and Wellstone to "address outstanding issues" with the legislation, CongressDaily reports. Roukema had introduced a "broader" bill (HR 162), but said last week that it would not be "likely to move forward" (CongressDaily, 3/21). She introduced a House version of the Wellstone-Domenici bill last week (Roukema release, 3/20).
The bill "could still face opposition," CongressDaily reports. One "sticking point" is employers' concern that the measure would increase health care costs. Legislators are considering adding an exemption to the law for companies whose health care costs rise between 1% and 3% annually due to parity provisions, CongressDaily reports. Lawmakers are also debating whether the bill should limit mental health benefits only to people with "biologically based disorders," as some states have done. In addition, "political considerations" may come into play, as Bush administration officials question whether to "hand Wellstone a political victory" as he enters into a "particularly tough re-election race" against a candidate backed by the White House (CongressDaily, 3/20).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.