Thursday, March 06, 2008

victory on road to mental health parity

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The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill calling for mental health parity this week. Mental health parity is the notion that mental health issues should be subject to the same terms and conditions as physical health issues by insurance companies.

The Senate already passed a different version of a bill calling for mental health parity. The two chambers will have to come to an agreement on one version of the bill for it to move forward to be signed into law by the president.

House Approved Bill on Mental Health Parity

Both bills would outlaw health insurance practices that set lower limits on treatment or higher co-payments for mental health services than for other medical care.

Typical annual limits include 30 visits to a doctor or 30 days of hospital care for treatment of a mental disorder. Such limits would no longer be allowed if the insurer had no limits on treatment of conditions like cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that an earlier version of the House bill would increase premiums for group health insurance by an average of four-tenths of 1 percent. Some of the cost could be passed on to workers.

Under a federal law passed in 1996, it is currently illegal for insurance companies to set annual or lifetime limits for mental health services that are different than for other services, but they have circumvented this limit by placing restrictions on the number of days of inpatient and outpatient treatment provided for mental disorders and charging higher copayments.

Perhaps the positions of father and son pair Sen. Ted Kennedy and Rep. Patrick Kennedy as leading supporters of the bills in their respective chambers will help Congress come to a compromise and make this a reality. The bills have received widespread support on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers, so we can hope this will help with efforts to compromise, too.

Although President George W. Bush went on record as a supporter of mental health parity in 2002, he has said he has concerns about the House bill. Therefore, the best thing you can do to support this effort would be to write the President to express your support for the bill we hope Congress will ultimately be able to offer for his signature.

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