Senate Passes Mental Health
By Kap Su Seol
The Senate has passed an amendment requiring group health insurance plans that cover mental illness to provide benefits on a par with what they provide for physical illness.
The original legislation, passed by a majority voice vote as an amendment in the 1996 appropriations bill for the departments of Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services, does not require employers to offer mental health coverage as part of employee health benefits.
The amendment applies to group health plans already providing mental health benefits. Companies must provide the same level of coverage for mental health as they do for physical health needs ranging from routine checkups to major surgery.
Modeled after mental health benefits provided through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, the bill contains a small business exemption for companies with 50 or fewer employees.
“The number of Americans suffering from a mental illness or the family members affected by a mental illness is growing, particularly as the stigma surrounding these diseases of the brain recede and more people are open to getting help,” says Sen. Pete V. Domenici, R-N.M.
Domenici, who co-sponsored the 1996 bill and the amendment with Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., says “The Senate has done the right thing to open more doors for them to get the care they need.”
The amendment will close the loopholes in the 1996 law that bans bias in health insurance coverage, the two lawmakers say.
Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, November 5, 2001. Copyright 2001 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.