Mental health parity bills pass House, Senate

This just in from the American Mental Health Counselors Association:

E-News from Washington
Vol. 08-36
September 24, 2008
House, Senate Approve Landmark Parity Bills
In historic votes held Tuesday, September 23, both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate passed separate bills requiring private sector health plans to end discriminatory coverage of mental health and addictive disorder services. The votes bring AMHCA, ACA and other mental health advocacy organizations significantly closer to the long-standing goal of enacting strong federal parity protections.
Both votes occurred Tuesday afternoon. A free-standing parity bill, H.R. 6983, the “Paul Wellstone-Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act,” was voted on in the House of Representatives. The bill included the parity protections agreed to earlier this year by House and Senate negotiators, as well as provisions to offset the legislation’s relatively small costs. The House vote was 376-47, a very strong show of support for the legislation.
In the Senate, identical parity protections were included as part of a broad package of wide-ranging tax-related provisions, including extensions of expiring and expired tax credit and incentive programs, a short-term adjustment to the alternative minimum tax, and provisions for helping victims of recent natural disasters. The Senate vote on the package was 93-2.
It is unclear what the next step for the parity legislation will be, although further votes are expected in the coming days. House and Senate members have not yet reached agreement on how to pay for the tax-related provisions approved by the Senate, which is why the House considered the parity legislation separately.
AMHCA and ACA thank their members who contacted Congress in support of parity. We encourage counselors to stay tuned for further developments, and to be prepared for more grassroots work as needed. We’re almost there!
For more information, contact either Beth Powell with AMHCA (at 800-326-2642, ext. 105, e-mail: bpowell@amhca.org) or Scott Barstow with ACA (at 800-347-6647 x234, e-mail: sbarstow@counseling.org).
Beth Powell
Director, Public Policy and Professional Issues
American Mental Health Counselors Association
The only organization working exclusively for mental health counselors
801 N. Fairfax Street, Suite 304
Alexandria, VA 22314

I am glad to see this but the devil will be in the details of how to pay for it when we are in such a financial crisis.

House passes mental health parity legislation

I posted about HR 1424 recently, noting that the mental health parity bill was going to be voted on soon. On Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed HR 1424. See this New York Times report for details.

Today an email from the American Mental Health Counselors Association HQ provided more background.

E-News from Washington

Vol. 08-12

March 6, 2008

 

House Passes Historic Parity Legislation!

 

On March 5th the House of Representatives passed comprehensive legislation requiring private health insurance plans to use the same treatment limitations and financial requirements for mental health and addictive disorder coverage as is used for substantially all other covered services. H.R. 1424, the “Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act of 2007,” introduced by Representatives Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) and Jim Ramstad (R-MN), was passed with strong bipartisan support by a vote of 268-148. (House members’ votes are listed online at http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2008/roll101.xml.) The legislation is named for the late Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, a tireless advocate for Americans with mental illness.

 

House passage of H.R. 1424 is an historic step forward for mental health and addiction treatment advocates, and comes after years of hard work by the mental health and addictive disorder advocacy community. Although similar in many respects to legislation passed last year by the Senate, H.R. 1424 provides more consumer protections by requiring plans covering mental and addictive disorder treatments to cover the full range of disorders recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)—the same range of disorders as is covered for members of Congress and all other federal employees under long-standing requirements for Federal Employee Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) policies. Unlike the Senate’s bill, H.R. 1424 also stipulates that health plan covering out-of-network services for medical and surgical benefits must also offer out-of-network coverage for mental health and addictive disorder benefits. This requirement applies for both outpatient and inpatient care.

 

AMHCA and ACA applaud Representatives Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) and Jim Ramstad (R-MN) for their long, hard, heroic work in gaining House passage of H.R. 1424. During floor debate, both Kennedy and Ramstad spoke about their own personal battles with mental and addictive disorders, their treatment, and how their treatment has enabled them to lead productive lives. AMHCA and ACA also thank those counselors who took the time to contact their representative on this issue.

 

Attention now shifts to House-Senate negotiations to reconcile their chambers’ versions of the parity legislation. Like the business community, the Bush administration argued in favor of the weaker Senate version, issuing a statement of policy expressing opposition to H.R. 1424. Despite this, AMHCA, ACA and other mental health and addictive disorder advocates are now working to build upon the strong bipartisan support for H.R. 1424 and the unanimous passage last year of the Senate’s bill, to encourage the development and enactment of parity legislation that provides consumer protections that are as strong as possible.

Beth Powell

Director, Public Policy and Professional Issues

American Mental Health Counselors Association

I recognize some social conservatives and business advocates do not favor parity. However, I see this as a very family friendly legislation. Severe mental disorders sap the resources of working families and are leading causes of disability. If this bill is law, managed care companies/insurers will still be able to deny inappropriate care for the questionable diagnoses in the DSM (e.g., caffiene intoxication) but will not be able to deny appropriate care for those who need it.