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March 12, 2007
Proposed Mental Health Parity Rules Expand Existing Law

The U.S. Senate is mulling a proposal that would build upon existing law requiring parity for annual and lifetime limits between mental health coverage and medical/surgical coverage, according to Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), a sponsor of the Mental Health Parity Act of 2007.

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Under the bill (S. 558), which was recently approved 18-3 by the Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, mental health parity would be expanded to include deductibles, co-payments, out-of-pocket expenses, co-insurance, covered hospital days, and covered out-patient visits, Domenici reports.

The bill, which generally would apply to companies with at least 50 employees, "prohibits group health plans from imposing treatment limitations or financial requirements on the coverage of mental health conditions that do not also apply to physical conditions. That means no limits on days or treatment visits, and no exorbitant co-payments or deductibles," Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), another sponsor of the measure, said in a statement during the markup of the bill.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Labor's Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) recently announced a technical amendment extending interim final rules under the 1996 Mental Health Parity Act to December 31, 2007 . The original Act included a sunset date of September 30, 2001 , but the EBSA reports that the sunset date has been extended several times since then--most recently as part of the Tax Relief and Health Care Act of 2006.

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