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To:

Mental Health Liaison Group Members, Parity Supporters

From:

Peter Newbould, MHLG Health Policy Committee Cochair c/o American Psychological Assn. Practice Organization, 202-336-5889

Chris Koyanagi, MHLG Health Policy Committee Cochair
c/o Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, 202-467-5730 x118

Re:

Questions to Ask Members and Candidates (Parity Alert #41)

Date:

October 20, 2006

Action Between now and the November 7 election, get House Members to commit to sign the discharge petition for the mental health/substance use disorder parity bill.

Targets:  All Members of the House of Representatives and candidates for the House.

Message

For a current Member of the House of Representatives:

§ “Will you sign the petition to discharge H.R. 1402 so that we can finally have a fair vote to end discrimination against treatment of mental disorders in health care?”

For a non-incumbent candidate for Congress:

§ “If you are elected, will you cosponsor the Wellstone Act and sign on to the petition to ensure that those of us/our family members/Americans with mental disorders get the health care they need?”

Talking Points: Demanding a vote on H.R. 1402

§ I/my family member/someone I know/millions of Americans have a disease.  But my/their health insurance won’t pay for the care I/they need on the same terms as it pays for every other disease.

§ For more than six years, there’s been a bill in the House of Representatives that would end that kind of discrimination against health care for mental disorders and addiction.  It’s H.R. 1402, the Paul Wellstone Mental Health Equitable Treatment Act.  For three Congresses in a row, a bipartisan majority in the House has cosponsored this bill.

§ But the House leadership has never let this bill come up for a fair up-or-down vote.  In six years, it has never even been allowed to have a vote in committee.

§ Over 300 organizations nationally support H.R. 1402 as a critical step in ending the discrimination against those who suffer from mental or substance use disorders.

§ Now the bill’s sponsors have launched a petition to demand a vote when Congress returns for the “lame duck” session.  If 218 Members of Congress sign, we’ll finally get a vote to end the arbitrary and short-sighted discrimination against health care for people with mental or substance use disorders.

Background: Just before the House recessed until November 13, Representatives Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) and Jim Ramstad (R-MN) filed a “discharge petition” that, if approved by the House, would compel a November vote on their mental health and substance use disorder bill.  The sponsors view this step as necessary because of the continued opposition of the House Republican Leadership.  A total of 230 Members of the House are on record as cosponsoring H.R. 1402 (38 of whom are Republicans).  Though this is 12 more than a majority in the House, the bill has been blocked.

To see if a Representative has signed the petition go to http://clerk.house.gov/109/lrc/pd/petitions/Dis18.htm

The Legislation: The Kennedy-Ramstad bill, H.R. 1402, addresses discrimination in group health plans against persons with mental or substance use disorders.  It would expand the Mental Health Parity Act of 1996 by prohibiting group health plans from imposing treatment or financial limitations on mental health benefits that are different from those applied to medical/surgical services.  The legislation closes the loopholes that allow discrimination in the copayment, coinsurance, deductible, maximum out-of-pocket limit and day and visit limits.  It applies only to group health plans already providing mental health benefits, and excludes (as does current law) health plans sponsored by employers of fewer than 50 people.

New data has proven that parity in the Federal Employee Health Benefit Program has had minimal cost.  Members of Congress and their staffs are among the 8.5 million federal employees, retirees and dependents who have had parity for BOTH mental health and substance use disorders since January 2001.  H.R. 1402 was modeled on that federal employee benefit.

List of Cosponsors: To see whether a Representative has cosponsored H.R. 1402, the Paul Wellstone Mental Health Equitable Treatment Act, visit http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d109:HR01402:@@@P.

Resources: See fact sheets and previous advocacy letters at http://www.mhlg.org/page18.html.

Congressional Contacts: Interested Representatives or candidates should contact Andrew McKechnie with Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-MN) at 202-225-2871 or Michael Zamore with Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) at 202-225-4911.

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