Mental Health Proposal Blocked from Defense Bill
Senate Republicans on Monday "blocked" a bipartisan attempt to add a $175 million mental health package to the fiscal year 2002 defense authorization bill, CongressDaily reports. The measure would have provided grants to schools to develop mental health programs and given public health agencies funds to address mental health needs stemming from disasters such as the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The provision also would have provided funding to train mental health professionals to treat people with "disaster-related" mental health problems. Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.), one of the sponsors of the proposal, said, "Let us not repeat the mistakes that were made in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, when the trauma experienced by veterans was ignored or trivialized until well after the optimal time for treatment." The measure's sponsors -- Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) and Wellstone -- are looking for "another vehicle" to which they can attach the proposal, CongressDaily reports.
In related news, discussions continue "over the fate" of a revised version of the 1996 mental health parity law (S 543), which Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) has said he wants to bring to the floor for a vote this week (Rovner, CongressDaily, 10/3). Sponsored by Wellstone and Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), the bill would keep insurers from imposing limits on hospital stays and physician visits for mental health treatment that are greater than those imposed for physical health visits, and require them to charge the same co-payments and deductibles for both mental and physical health services. In comparison, the 1996 law -- which is up for reauthorization -- required only that health plans provide equal annual and lifetime benefits for mental health as for other services (California Healthline, 8/2). The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the bill would raise premiums an average of 0.9%. Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) said yesterday that he has "problems" with the legislation, citing a new CBO estimate that the bill would cost the government $5.4 billion in lower tax revenue over the next 10 years. He added that insurers have said that they will not be ready to provide the proposed services by Jan. 1, 2002, when the bill would become effective. Gregg said that the bill should include language from the 1996 law that allows employers to "opt out" if the cost of providing mental health coverage increases premiums more than 1%. "All we want is the language that was in the bill before," Gregg said (CongressDaily, 10/3).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.