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House Opts For Its Version Of Mental Parity Bill

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The House Education and Labor Committee, on July 18th, opted for a House version on mental health parity legislation over language crafted in the Senate, with both sides claiming to have bipartisan support.

The committee voted 33 to 9 to approve the Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act, or H.R. 1424.

“Today’s vote is a victory in a long bipartisan effort to provide adequate health coverage to people who suffer from the debilitating – and sometimes life-threatening – effects of mental illness,” said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the chairman of the committee. “This landmark legislation would close the gap in coverage for people without adequate access to treatment for mental illnesses.”

Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., one of the authors of the House bill, said he was “grateful my colleagues understand the critical nature of this legislation and, after careful review, have voted to continue the momentum towards passage.”

The legislation, he added, “is about treating people equally. If you can get care for heart disease, or cancer, or diabetes out of network, but you can’t get care for alcoholism, or depression, or PTSD out of network, that’s not equal.”

In passing H.R. 1424, committee members denied a proposal to instead use language crafted in the Senate by Sen. Michael Enzi, R-Wyo., Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. Sen. Enzi is the ranking Republican member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Sen. Kennedy is the chairman of the committee, and Rep. Kennedy’s father.

The Senate language, taken from the Mental Health Parity Act of 2007, or S. 558, was offered by Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the ranking Republican on the panel’s Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions.

“The Senate bill is the product of two years of bipartisan negotiations between a broad, well-respected group of Senators, mental health advocates, providers, and business groups who represent virtually all interests in this debate,” said Kline. “It is my understanding that these groups have negotiated in good faith on many difficult issues, and that their work has resulted in a compromise acceptable to everyone.”

Both bills require that mental diseases be given equal treatment to physical ailments by insurers, including the same terms for deductibles, limits on hospital stays and outpatient visits, and co-payments.

The Senate bill allows states to continue regulating insurance plans as they do now, but it would not permit new state laws. The House bill leaves open the possibility forstates to impose new laws on insurers and employers mandating coverage or limiting insurers’ oversight abilities.

This raised a concern among some house committee Republicans that the House version could lead to an increase against health plans as states impose mandates beyond what is outlined in the Federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or ERISA.

Another major concern raised by Republican supporters of the Senate language includes what they see as a failure of the house version to protect medical management practices.

“The fatal flaws contained in the House Democrat bill would thrust upon employers more mandates, more costs and more reason to restrict worker coverage, or flee the voluntary benefits system altogether,” said Rep. Howard McKeon, R-Calif., ranking Republican member of the Education and Labor Committee. “I hope that as it becomes clearer how unworkable this Democrat bill truly is, we will have the opportunity to work together toward legislation, such as the bill championed by Congressman Kline and a bipartisan group of senators, that provides real parity between the coverage of mental and physical illnesses.”


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