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March 18, 2008
House Passes Mental Health Parity Bill
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lth insurers would be prohibited from placing discriminatory restrictions on mental health and addiction treatment, under the Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act of 2007 (HR 1424), which was recently approved by the House of Representatives in a 268-to-148 vote.

Representatives Patrick J. Kennedy (D-Rhode Island) and Jim Ramstad (R-Minnesota), sponsors of the bill, said HR 1424 builds upon the 1996 Mental Health Parity Act, which required equality only for annual and lifetime limits. HR 1424 specifies that financial requirements and treatment limitations applied to mental health and addiction benefits be no more restrictive or costly than those applied to substantially all comparable medical and surgical benefits covered by a health plan, according to Kennedy and Ramstad.

In addition, the bill requires the plan to cover all mental illnesses and addiction disorders included in the American Psychological Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the same standard used for the federal employee health plan.

The White House and some industry associations oppose HR 1424 but support the Senate's version of the bill (S. 558), which was unanimously approved last Fall.

"HR 1424 is much too broad," said John Engler, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers. "Additionally, the bill lacks adequate protection for the medical management of benefits and requires employer plans to be subject to 50 differing state mental health laws. This legislation would significantly increase administrative burdens and costs at a time when rising healthcare costs are one of the biggest challenges facing small manufacturers and their employees."

"HR 1424 does not promote parity because it would treat coverage for mental and behavioral conditions differently than coverage for other medical and surgical services," said James A. Klein, president of the American Benefits Council. "The House bill specifies all of the mental and behavioral conditions and services that must be covered if an employer provides any mental health coverage, although, wisely, such detailed requirements do not exist under law for medical and surgical conditions and services ... The unintended result if the House bill becomes law could be to compel employers to either reduce health plan coverage generally, or eliminate mental health coverage altogether in order to offset the added cost and complexity of compliance."

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