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House Passes Mental Health Parity Bill

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America’s Health Insurance Plans welcomed news that House members voted 376-47 last week to pass H.R. 6983, a House-Senate compromise version of a mental health parity bill.

H.R. 6983, the product of a combination of H.R. 1424 and S. 558, is different from the mental health parity bill under consideration in the Senate, which could jeopardize the chances of a parity bill reaching President Bush.

Health insurers like the current version of the bill better than they liked a version the House passed in July, according to AHIP spokesman Robert Zirkelbach.

The earlier version would have imposed costly coverage mandates, including many mandates outside the behavioral health field, and it could have hurt health plans’ care management programs, Zirkelbach says.

Health insurers currently can charge higher co-payments for mental health care than they charge for other forms of medical care, set lower limits on hospitalization periods for mental health problems, and use other plan design features to pay less for mental health care than they pay for other forms of medical care, according to the American Benefits Council, Washington.

H.R. 6983 prohibits group health plans from imposing different limits on mental health care than they impose on other forms of medical care.

“This legislation will give peace of mind to patients and preserve their access to the innovative programs and flexible benefit options that health insurance plans have developed to promote high-quality, evidence-based behavioral health care,” AHIP President Karen Ignagni says.

The version of the bill the House just passed “resolves key employer concerns by protecting the federal framework governing employer health plans, allowing employers to continue determining what types of mental health are covered and ensuring that crucial medical management efforts are not eroded,” ABC President James Klein says.

The compromise bill is supported by a broad coalition of hundreds of groups representing insurers, employers, providers, and people with mental illness and addiction disorders, Klein says.

Congressional analysts expect the House bill to cost $3.4 billion.

Parity bill supporters want to pay for it by waiting 2 years to implement a corporate tax break, a worldwide interest allocation provision. Senate Republicans seem likely to oppose a delay in implementing the tax break.


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