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Congress Ready to Promote Mental Health

Originally posted November 17, 2007: Metal Health Discrimination? The AP reports that the Senate has passed a bill that would require group health insurance to cover mental health services and substance abuse treatment at the same levels as typical medical coverage. From this little article one gets a glimpse at the way the US has treated mental health. There is a more expansive House version of the mental health parity bill that would also require insurance changes to begin in January 2008 – almost a year earlier than the Senate bill, which has the support of insurance companies. The House bill has made it through three committees.


Unlike the Senate Bill, which gives insurers leeway over which mental health conditions they cover, the House today passed their version of the mental health parity bill, HR 1424, which will require most group health plans to make their coverage for all mental health treatment on a par with their coverage of physical illnesses. This would overturn current federal law that allows insurers to discriminate against mental health care by charging higher co-pays and limiting benefits. The vote was 268 to 148, with 47 Republicans joining 221 Democrats in support of the measure. “Illness of the brain must be treated just like illness anywhere else in the body,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

Of course, a lot of”good ideas” come with a trade-off. On this one it’s cost, according to the Congressional Budget Office. They conclude that HR 1424, by increasing overall insurer payouts, would cause insurers to raise their premiums in order to maintain profits. Higher premiums, in turn, would result in employers shifting employee compensation from wages to nontaxable benefits. As a result of this shift, payroll tax revenue would decline and with it, federal income. The CBO puts the total costs caused by the bill at $1.1 billion over the 2008-2012 period and $3.1 billion over the 2008-2017 period.

House Democrats had attached a financing provision that bans doctors referring patients to “specialty hospitals”- typically for-profit facilities at least partially owned and designed around physicians who specialize in one or more surgical procedures there. That proposal would limit the growth of these institutions and thus the incentive for these doctors to promote, say, needless heart procedures or back surgeries. Thus, savings to the system and costs covered.

It seems a very complex way of achieving reform.

by Robert Pear
The New York Times
March 6, 2008

The Associated Press
September 19, 2007

For a recent update on the status of this bill, go to: http://www.kaisernetwork.org/daily_reports/rep_index.cfm?hint=3&DR_ID=48249

For the text and status of the bill itself, go to:

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