Democrats Call for Vote on Mental Health Parity Bill
A group of Democratic senators on Thursday called for an "immediate vote" on a mental health parity bill (S 486) supported by the late Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.), who died last Oct. 25 in a plane crash, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports (Hotakainen, Minneapolis Star Tribune, 10/24). The legislation, called the "Paul Wellstone Mental Health Equitable Treatment Act," would require health plans to provide equal coverage for the 200 mental illnesses listed in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual, a collection of widely recognized mental disorders. 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, 5/5). On Wednesday, a group of Democratic senators sent a letter to Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) that asked him "to set aside our other business" and hold a vote on the bill, which is sponsored by Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) and has 66 cosponsors, to honor Wellstone (Minneapolis Star Tribune, 10/24). Kennedy also said that he would move to attach the bill to the next continuing budget resolution in the event that Senate Republicans refused to hold a vote on the legislation (Rovner, CongressDaily, 10/23). According to the Star Tribune, Frist will not likely move the bill to the Senate floor for a vote today. Nick Smith, a spokesperson for Frist, said that the majority leader supports the legislation but "wants to see it go through the appropriate committee process," the Star Tribune reports. The bill remains under consideration in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (Minneapolis Star Tribune, 10/24).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.