Senate Committee Approves Mental Health Parity Measure
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee yesterday unanimously approved the Mental Health Parity Act (S 543), which would require companies that offer mental health benefits to provide the same level of coverage for mental health as they do for physical health. But some committee members "warned" that they are planning to air their disagreements when the bill comes up on the floor, CongressDaily reports. A more limited 1996 mental health parity law, which requires health plans to provide equal annual and lifetime benefits for mental health as for other services, is set to expire Sept. 30 (Rovner, CongressDaily, 8/1). The new 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. To help gain support from the entire committee, the bill's backers agreed to expand an exemption for small businesses to include companies with 50 workers or less, up from a previous level of 25 workers. Still, committee ranking member Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) expressed concern that the increased costs will lead employers to drop mental health coverage (CongressDaily, 8/1). According to CBO estimates, the new plan would raise individuals' insurance premiums 1% annually (AP/New York Times, 8/1). Gregg said he "reserved the right" to offer an amendment that would cancel the law if premiums increased more than 1%.
The committee yesterday also approved the Health Care Safety Net Amendments of 2001, which would reauthorize the National Health Service Corps and community health clinics, among other programs. Included in that package was an amendment by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) that would provide $125 million for the Healthy Communities Access Program, an initiative created by the Clinton administration that coordinates safety net facilities' services, which the Bush administration has said it will eliminate. In a letter to committee members yesterday, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said that the administration's "goal should be the provision of health care services" and that the administration would "oppose" funding for the coordination program (CongressDaily, 8/1).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.