Congressional Action on Mental Health Parity Legislation Stalled
A bill (S 486) that would require mental health parity in insurance coverage has been "bog[ged] down in Congress" despite efforts by supporters to scale back the measure's requirements, the AP/Richmond Times-Dispatch reports (AP/Richmond Times-Dispatch, 6/11). The legislation, called the "Paul Wellstone Mental Health Equitable Treatment Act," originally required health plans to provide equal coverage for the 200 mental illnesses listed in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual, a collection of widely recognized mental disorders. In addition, the bill would eliminate what some consider a loophole in the 1996 Mental Health Parity Act, which mandated that health plans that cover mental illnesses could not establish different annual and lifetime benefits for mental illnesses than for physical illnesses. The new legislation would mandate that such health plans also could not establish higher deductibles or copayments for mental health coverage than for other medical conditions (California Healthline, 11/12/03).
The original legislation had the support of the Bush administration, as well as 246 sponsors in the House and 69 sponsors in the Senate, the AP/Times-Dispatch reports. However, House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) has declined to schedule a vote on the measure and Republicans in the Senate blocked an attempt to pass the bill last fall. According to the AP/Times-Dispatch, sponsors of the legislation say that they are willing to require coverage only for mental illnesses that are already covered by health plans. "The coverage has been scaled back significantly," Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.), a supporter of the bill, said. He added that Hastert has been the chief obstacle to passing the bill, the AP/Times-Dispatch reports. Andrew Sperling, a lobbyist for the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, said, "The bottom line is there is still enormous resistance from employers and health plans, and they've been able to turn to allies in the Senate and especially the House." But Karen Ignagni, CEO of America's Health Insurance Plans, said that employers are concerned that the measure could cause an increase in health care costs and push some companies to drop mental health coverage, the AP/Times-Dispatch reports (AP/Richmond Times-Dispatch, 6/11).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.