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The following is forwarded from Justice for All, an electronic information program of the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD)
Senate Health Committee Approves Mental Health Parity Bill
by 18-3 Vote

Volume 12 Number 31
ISSN 1091-4021
Lead Report: Mental Health

Thursday, February 15, 2007

By an 18-3 vote, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions
Committee Feb. 14 approved legislation (S. 558) requiring business
with 50 or more workers to offer the same medical benefits for
mental health care as they do for other medical conditions.

The proposed Mental Health Parity Act of 2007 would not require
businesses to offer mental health benefits, but if they do, such
benefit packages must embody parity with other medical benefits in
the areas of patient deductibles, co-payments, and annual and
lifetime coverage limits, as well in covered hospital days and

The bill's sponsors have said they hope the measure can be brought
to the Senate floor soon. A similar bill is expected to be
introduced into the House in March.

"Access to mental health services is one of the most important
civil rights issues facing the nation," Senate HELP Committee
Chairman Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) said in his opening statement
at the committee's markup. "For too long, persons living with
mental disorders have suffered discriminatory treatment at all
levels of society. They have been forced to pay more for the
services they need and to worry about their job security if their
employer finds out about their condition."

Voting against the bill in the Senate committee were Sens. Richard
Burr (R-N.C.), Wayne Allard (R-Colo.), and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.).

Cost Exemption

The bill includes a cost exemption for businesses. Health plans
can be exempted from the parity requirements if they are projected
to have increased health care costs exceeding 2 percent of total
plan costs during the first year or exceeding 1 percent of the
total plan costs each subsequent year, according to a summary of
the legislation provided by the lawmakers. The Congressional
Budget Office has estimated that mental health parity will
increase employers' health care costs by less than 1 percent, the
summary said.

The individual health insurance market is not covered under the

Under the bill, state laws requiring mental health parity must
have the same coverage as defined in the legislation.

Mental health parity legislation approved by Congress in 1996
requires group health plans that offer mental health benefits to
set the same annual and lifetime caps on mental health coverage as
for other medical/surgical services. Mental health advocacy groups
said the 1996 law has loopholes that need to be closed by barring
group health plans from requiring higher co-payments, deductibles,
and coinsurance payments for mental health services, compared to
other health benefits.

Groups including the American Psychiatric Association have
criticized Congress for merely passing extensions of the 1996 law,
rather than addressing the cost-sharing issues. Some employer
groups have said passing more sweeping mental health parity
legislation would increase health care costs for businesses.

In March, Reps. Patrick J. Kennedy (D-R.I.) and Jim Ramstad (R-
Minn.) are expected to introduce companion legislation, the Paul
Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act. The legislation
is modeled after the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program,
which covers members of Congress and other federal workers and
dependents and which implemented parity in 2001, according to a
Feb. 14 press release from Rep. Kennedy's office.
                                Celane McWhorter, Executive Director
                            APSE: The Network on Employment
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Bryan Dague, Ed.D.
University of Vermont
Center on Disability & Community Inclusion
Mann Hall, 3rd Floor
208 Colchester Ave.
Burlington, VT 05405-1757

Email: [log in to unmask]
Phone: (802) 656-1345
Fax: (802) 656-1357
TTY: (802) 656-8499
Website: http://www.uvm.edu/~cdci/