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Friday, February 23, 2007

Mental Health Parity Act of 2007

The Mental Health Parity Act of 2007 [pdf], a bill aimed at improving mental health care insurance coverage, took a big step forward last week when it cleared the Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Next step? A vote by the full Senate. The Diane Rehm Show offers a solid introduction [audio] to this bill:

Senators Pete Domenici, Edward Kennedy, and Mike Enzi have introduced legislation that requires health insurers who cover mental illnesses to offer benefits on par with those provided for physical ailments. We'll talk about the implications of parity for mental health benefits and prospects for this legislation.

Senator Pete Domenici, R, New Mexico
Paul Dennett, vice president for health policy, American Benefits Council
Andrew Sperling, director of federal legislative advocacy, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
Keith Dixon, president, Cigna Behaviorial Health
Senator Edward Kennedy, D, Massachusetts

Click on 'Article Link' below tags for more including an action item...

From the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee:

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) today introduced breakthrough mental health legislation to ensure greater health insurance parity for persons with mental illness. The Mental Health Parity Act of 2007 represents the culmination of more than a year’s negotiations involving lawmakers, mental health, insurance and business organizations to craft compromise legislation. The new policy would build on the landmark 1996 Mental Health Parity Act, a law authored by Domenici and the late Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone that began the process of ending health insurance discrimination against people with mental illness.

The bill does not mandate group plans to provide any mental health coverage, but it does require health insurance plans that offer mental health coverage to provide that coverage on par with financial and treatment coverage offered for other physical illnesses. “One in five Americans will suffer from mental illness this year. But unlike in the past, we know today that mental illnesses are treatable – more treatable than many physical illnesses. Yet, only one third of those facing mental illnesses will receive treatment,” Kennedy said. “The bill we introduce today will begin to right these wrongs. It represents an agreement, after seven long years of stalemate, not only between Democrats and Republicans, but also with the mental health community, businesses and the insurance industry. And it provides new hope to millions of our fellow citizens.”

“We are here today after years of hard work,” Domenici said. “Simply put, our bill will provide parity between mental health coverage and medical and surgical coverage. No longer will a more restrictive standard be applied the mental health coverage and another more lenient standard be applied to medical and surgical coverage. This is a matter of fairness and I am genuinely excited that we may finally make progress to build on the 1996 law and offering this much-needed help to those with mentally ill and those whose care for them.”

“This carefully crafted, balanced compromise bill could only be reached by bringing together employer, insurance and mental health communities and asking them to set aside partisanship and find a common ground. By bringing everyone to the table to air concerns and determine areas of agreement, we have finally overcome years of legislative paralysis to make progress for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness,” Enzi said.

See the 6-page release for more specifics.

The bill appears to be receiving broad support from various groups including insurers, employers and mental health professionals and organizations that represent them.

Aetna's response:

Aetna (NYSE: AET - News) today announced its support for the Mental Health Parity Act of 2007 (S.558) proposed by U.S. Senators Pete V. Domenici, Michael B. Enzi and Edward M. Kennedy. The legislation establishes parity between mental health benefits and medical/surgical benefits with respect to financial requirements and treatment limitations for consumers. As a leading health insurer that provides the full spectrum of health benefits to more than 35 million Americans, Aetna believes that this legislation will promote timely and appropriate care for mental health, which is an essential component of effective health care. Aetna said the federal legislation will create a national solution to inconsistent behavioral health care regulation, inconsistencies that can be a threat to Americans' overall health.

"Aetna supports this legislation and will work with Congress to see that it is enacted without modifications that undermine the compromise forged by Senators Kennedy, Domenici and Enzi," said Mary Fox, head of Medical Related Products, which includes the behavioral health and pharmacy businesses. "Aetna is supportive of the principles and approach embodied in this legislation. If passed, we believe our members will benefit by being better able to achieve their optimal health through more integrated health and behavioral programs, benefits and services."

Tha National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) offers an easy-to-use online action form to throw our support in S 558's direction:

Action Required

Support the Mental Health Parity Act of 2007 (S 558)
Senators Introduce Mental Illness Parity Legislation – Senate Committee Set for Immediate Action on Bill Ending Insurance Discrimination

On February 12, a bipartisan group of senators, led by longtime NAMI allies Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM), Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) and Mike Enzi (R-WY), introduced legislation to require employers and health plans to equally cover treatment for mental illness. This legislation, known as the Mental Health Parity Act of 2007 (S 558), would expand an existing 1996 federal law and prohibit employers and health plans from imposing durational treatment limits and financial limitations on coverage for mental illness that do not apply to all other medical conditions.

Advocates are strongly encouraged to contact their Senators and urge them to support and cosponsor S 558. It is critically important that strong and immediate bipartisan support be demonstrated for this legislation.

When contacting Senate offices, it is critically important to remind them that:

*Mental illnesses are real
*Treatment works
*There is no justification for a health plan to impose limits or conditions on coverage that do not apply to all other illnesses, and
*After nearly 15 years of delay, it is time for the Senate finally pass parity legislation.

Please lend your support to this important new bill.

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