House Committee Holds Hearing on Mental Health Parity Legislation
The House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Employer-Employee Relations yesterday held a hearing on mental health parity legislation, CongressDaily/AM reports. House negotiators dropped a Senate-passed mental health parity amendment from the fiscal year 2002 budget last December but promised to consider the subject this year (Rovner, CongressDaily/AM, 3/14). The legislation would have required insurers that provide mental health coverage to offer these 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 been an expansion of 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, 12/5/01). CongressDaily/AM reports that "[s]ome of the most compelling testimony" came from subcommittee member Rep. Lynn Rivers (D-Mich.), who has bipolar disorder. "The fact that we allow this discrimination to exist is a shame upon this nation. It's about money. It's about treating everyone fairly. And it's about time we did it," Rivers said. Employer groups countered that requiring mental health coverage to be equal to physical coverage would "make a bad health insurance situation worse." Speaking on behalf of the ERISA Industry Committee, Jane Greenman of Honeywell International said, "In the current economic environment, employers cannot afford to increase spending on health care coverage. Therefore, the cost of parity will often take the form of increased cost-sharing, reductions in other health care coverage and/or the elimination of health coverage entirely." But Henry Harbin, chair of Magellan Health Services, the country's largest managed mental health firm, said that parity can reduce costs by returning people who need mental health care to work. Harbin said that none of the states that have passed mental health parity laws has reported an increase in costs greater than 1% (CongressDaily/AM, 3/14).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.