Mental Health Parity Measure Expected to Lose ‘Key Vote’
Members of a House-Senate conference committee today are expected to vote 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 Los Angeles Times reports (Hook, Los Angeles Times, 12/18). The amendment is an expansion of the 1996 mental health parity law, which expired on Sept. 30. The 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 attempt 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 and not the broader parity measure. The "issue will come to a head" today as lawmakers meet to write the Labor-HHS bill's final version, the Times reports. House members on the committee are expected to vote on whether to accept the Senate amendment, and the Times reports that the Republican majority among them is expected to vote against the proposal (Los Angeles Times, 12/18). Bill co-sponsor Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) last Friday "declared the ... bill all but dead for the year," but he added, "It's not over 'til it's over" (Hotakainen, Minneapolis Star Tribune, 12/15). The Bush administration has said that it does not want to address the issue this year, the Times reports. In a letter to co-sponsor Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), 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 (Los Angeles Times, 12/18).