Support Split for Senate, House Mental Health Parity Bills
Two competing mental health parity bills -- one sponsored by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and the other by his son, Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) -- "reflect different views about what is possible and what is politically feasible" in expanding coverage for mental illnesses, the New York Times reports. Both bills would require insurers and employers to provide coverage for mental illnesses at the same level as physical illnesses.
The House bill would define the "minimum scope of coverage," under which a group health plan that offers mental health benefits would be required to provide coverage for the same range of mental illnesses and addiction disorders covered by the health plan with the largest enrollment of federal employees, the Times reports.
The Senate bill does not specify which mental conditions should be covered.
In addition, the House bill would not override "any state law that provides greater consumer protections, benefits," rights or remedies, while the Senate bill would "supersede any provision of state law" that differed from federal coverage requirements.
Rep. Kennedy said the Senate bill "leaves the definition [of mental health care] up to whatever is negotiated between the insurer and the employer." He said he was concerned that insurers would refuse to cover drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Sen. Kennedy said his bill is realistic because it is based on compromises he made with business and insurance groups, which likely will increase the chances of the bill becoming law.
President Bush has supported the concept of mental parity but has not endorsed any legislation.
The American Psychiatric Association and Mental Health America support both bills. However, Ralph Ibson, chief lobbyist for MHA, said, "The House bill has greater protections and is therefore a stronger bill."
America's Health Insurance Plans strongly prefers the Senate bill. AHIP President Karen Ignagni said the Senate bill would help "achieve consistency on how parity is defined" in different states.
However, Sens. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) and Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.) contend the Senate bill would interfere with their states' laws.
Sen. Kennedy said he believes he and Rep. Kennedy will "find ways of working together." According to the Times, with "a new Democratic majority, Congress appears likely to pass some version of the legislation" (Pear, New York Times, 3/19).