Bill Closes Mental Health ‘Loophole’ in Parity Law
Sens. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) and Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) have proposed legislation that would require companies that offer mental health benefits as part of a health plan to provide equal coverage for both mental and physical health, the AP/St. Paul Pioneer Press reports. The bill does not require employers to offer insurance with mental health benefits, but it does require employers who offer such benefits to provide the same level of coverage for mental and physical health. The bill is designed to close a "loophole" in the Mental Health Parity Act of 1996, also sponsored by Wellstone and Wellstone. Under that law, health plans that offer mental health benefits are permitted to establish "annual and lifetime" limits on mental health hospital stays and outpatient services. Domenici said, "Clearly, we can do much better. This [new bill] would be a huge step forward." However, Richard Coorsh, a spokesperson for Health Insurance Association of America, a trade association representing the private health care system, said, "We oppose these types of mandates because mandates, no matter how well intended, raise the cost of health coverage for consumers and employers." Wellstone and Domenici said the bill will save money that is currently being lost to "decreased worker productivity and wages" (Frommer, AP/St. Paul Pioneer Press, 3/16).