Congress Not Likely To Take Action on Mental Health Parity Legislation This Year
Lawmakers have failed to reach agreement on a mental health parity bill, and Congress likely will not take action on the legislation this year, the AP/Las Vegas Sun reports (Meckler, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 10/17). The bill (S 543), sponsored by Sens. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) and Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.), would eliminate a loophole in the original 1996 mental health parity law, which mandated that health plans that cover mental illnesses could not establish different annual and lifetime benefits for those illnesses than for physical illnesses. Under the legislation, health plans also could not establish higher deductibles or copayments for mental health benefits than for other medical conditions (California Healthline, 9/18). Domenici said, "I am very disappointed Congress has not made more progress toward enacting meaningful mental health parity legislation. I had hoped that ... it would have been done."
Although President Bush expressed support for mental health parity legislation earlier this year, negotiations with House GOP leaders "never got off the ground," according to a Republican leadership aide. Wellstone aide Brian Ahlberg said, "We're not negotiating at all yet because we haven't got a signal that they're willing to do a bill." National Alliance for the Mentally Ill lobbyist Andrew Sperling added, "Even if there was a train to get on, we don't have our bags packed and we're not on the platform." The GOP leadership aide said that "there's no chance" that a mental health parity bill will pass this year because "health care costs are just too high," the AP/Sun reports. House Republican leaders and some business groups have said that the legislation would increase the "already rising cost" of health insurance and could force some employers to "drop coverage altogether," the AP/Sun reports. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the bill would increase the cost of health insurance by about 1%. Some supporters of the mental health parity bill "hold out hope" that Congress will take action on the legislation in a lame-duck session after the Nov. 5 election, the AP/Sun reports (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 10/17).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.