U.S. Senate Unanimously Passes Mental Health Parity Measure
The Senate on Tuesday night by unanimous consent passed legislation (S 558) that would require health insurers to provide the same level of coverage for treatment of mental illnesses as they do for physical illnesses, the AP/San Francisco Chronicle reports (Frommer, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 9/18).
The bill would exempt companies with fewer than 50 employees. In addition, the bill would exempt group health plans and companies in the event that the cost of coverage for treatment of mental illnesses and substance abuse exceeded 2% of the total plan cost in the first year or 1% in each subsequent year. The legislation would not pre-empt state mental health parity laws (California Healthline, 2/15).
Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), one of the bill's three co-sponsors, said, "The passage tonight of the mental health parity bill underscores our commitment to treat all patients facing all diseases with the dignity and respect they deserve," adding, "This new legislation will bring dramatic new help to millions of Americans who today are denied needed mental health care and treatment."
Earlier on Tuesday, supporters of the House mental health parity bill (HR 1424) "inundated" the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), urging her to schedule a vote on the House bill, according to the AP/Chronicle. Brendan Daly, a Pelosi spokesperson, said she supports the legislation, which has 270 co-sponsors, and has a realistic vote date of mid-October.
Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), who co-sponsored the House Bill along with Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.), said, "That's not just another public policy issue," adding, "That's a life-or-death issue for millions of Americans." He predicts the House bill will pass before the end of the year (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 9/18).
Rep. Kennedy added he would rather wait until after the next election to push the House legislation than accept the Senate version. However, he acknowledged that parity proponents likely would not want to wait until 2009 to pass a law (CongressDaily, 9/19).
Ramstad, who this week announced that he will not seek re-election next year, said, "That's the most important legacy I could leave to literally millions of Americans, and we're going to get that done" (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 9/18).