Mental Health Parity Amendment Voted Down in Committee
As expected, members of a House-Senate conference committee yesterday voted against adding the Mental Health Equitable Treatment Act of 2001 (S 543) as an amendment to the fiscal year 2002 Labor-HHS appropriations bill, the New York Times reports. House members stuck to party lines in rejecting the Senate proposal, with all 10 Republicans voting against adding the amendment and all seven Democrats voting for the amendment (Pear, New York Times, 12/19). Instead, committee members approved a one-year extension of the 1996 mental health parity law (Conkey, Wall Street Journal, 12/19). The amendment would have been an expansion of the 1996 law, which expired on Sept. 30. That law prohibited private insurers from establishing annual and lifetime limits on mental health benefits, unless those same limits applied to other medical illnesses (California Healthline, 10/31). The new bill would have attempted to close loopholes in the 1996 law by requiring insurers that provide mental health coverage to offer those benefits at the same level as the benefits provided for physical health coverage with respect both to costs (such as deductibles) and to access to services. In October, the Senate approved the bill as an amendment to the 2002 Labor-HHS appropriations bill (HR 3061). The House-passed version of the appropriations bill contains only an extension of the 1996 law but not the broader parity measure. The Bush administration has said that it does not want to address the issue this year. In a letter to co-sponsor Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), however, President Bush said that he is "committed to this important priority" and "looks forward" to working with Congress on it next year, White House spokesperson Scott McClellan said (California Healthline, 12/18).