A House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee gave its approval to mental health parity legislation despite concerns from some republicans that the bill is inferior to a Senate proposal and would ultimately raise premiums.
The legislation, HR 1424 or the Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act of 2007, would require insurers to give equal treatment to mental conditions as they do to physical ailments. The bill was passed by a voice vote and is slated for a full committee markup next week.
“By putting mental health on a par with medical and surgical benefits, we will be improving the availability and affordability of healthcare for those with mental health and substance abuse conditions,” said subcommittee chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J. “This will not only reduce the pain and anguish of many of our constituents and their families who suffer from mental health and addiction diseases, but will also benefit our nation as a whole.”
Critics expressed concern, however, over language that would require health plans to cover all diagnoses in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition put out by the American Psychiatric Association if they provide coverage for any mental diseases.
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Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, the ranking minority member of the full committee, noted that the DSM includes such diagnoses as jetlag or caffeine related disorders, and he argued the bill would require these conditions “to be treated the same as a heart attack” by health insurers.
“I can tell you I’ve had jetlag and I’ve had a heart attack,” he added. “It’s not the same.”
The ranking Republican member of the subcommittee, Nathan Deal, R-Ga., also expressed concerns that by requiring insurers to provide coverage for every disorder, the law would lead to higher premiums. According to estimates by the Congressional Budget Office, he said, HR 1424 would increase premiums for businesses by .4%. That figure may seem low, he added, until it is combined with any number of other mandates imposed on health coverage.
“The aggregate effects of mandates like this can be significant in the health insurance market,” he said.