MENTAL HEALTH PARITY: Roukema Introduces New Bill
U.S. Rep. Marge Roukema (R-NJ) introduced the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Parity Act of 1998 yesterday. The comprehensive bill requires health insurance companies to establish parity between mental health and substance abuse coverage and coverage for physical illnesses and injury. "As a society, we are still struggling to acknowledge that mental illness is a real sickness in need of medical care," Roukema said. "Mental illness is not a character flaw, but a tangible treatable health problem as real as hypertension, cancer or heart disease," she added. She also said that restricting in-patient and outpatient coverage for mental illness "is wrong and must end."
Roukema noted the study released this week by the Department of Health and Human Service's Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services that shows "parity is not only affordable," but a "good investment." Roukema introduced legislation in 1996 that prohibited unequal limits on annual and lifetime spending levels. The new legislation goes further by prohibiting limitations on the frequency of treatments, number of visits, or other limitations on treatment not imposed for medical-surgical treatment. It would also prohibit copayments, deductibles, out-of-network charges, and out-of-pocket contributions or fees not imposed for medical surgical treatment. Co-sponsors of Roukema's bill are Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Constance Morella (R-MD), Christopher Shays (R-CT), Robert Wise Jr. (D-WV) and Pete Stark (D-CA). The Coalition for Fairness in Mental Illness Coverage, which includes the many of the nation's leading mental health organizations, has also endorsed the legislation (release, 3/26).