The House last night approved a version of mental health parity legislation that is strongly opposed by insurers, employers and the Bush administration.
The 268-148 vote on the Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act of 2007, H.R. 1424, sets up talks between the House and the Senate, which unanimously passed a much narrower bill, S. 552.
The Senate bill was a compromise reached after negotiations with businesses, the insurance industry and mental health advocates. Business and insurance groups had fought previous versions, arguing the proposals would drive up insurance costs.
The House bill specifies that if a plan provides mental health benefits, it must cover mental illnesses and addiction disorders listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is used by mental health professionals.
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The House bill would not apply to health plans sponsored by an employer with 50 or fewer employees, nor would it apply to coverage in the individual insurance market.
According to officials of America’s Health Insurance Plans, which represents health insurers, and the American Benefits Council, which represents employers, the Senate bill would give insurers more leeway on the types of mental disorders they would have to cover.
The House bill was sponsored by Reps. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., who says he has battled depression, alcoholism and drug abuse, and Jim Ramstad, R-Minn., a recovering alcoholic who is Kennedy’s Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor.
The Senate bill was sponsored by Kennedy’s father, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Sens. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Mike Enzi, R-Wyo.
That means that the younger Kennedy will negotiate with his father on a compromise measure.