Large Bipartisan Majority Support
WASHINGTON B Congressmen Patrick J. Kennedy (D-RI) and Jim Ramstad (R-MN) today introduced "The Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act "(H.R. 1367), to improve the overall health of all Americans by granting greater access to mental health and addiction treatment and prohibiting health insurers from placing discriminatory restrictions on treatment.
Since February, the Congressmen have been crisscrossing the country touting the merits of the legislation with their "Campaign to Insure Mental Health and Addiction Equity". The response has been overwhelming with support surfacing from every corner of society. The legislation is cosponsored by an historic bipartisan majority of 256 Members of Congress, including House Leaders.
"This bill is really very simple," said Congressman Kennedy. "Millions of Americans pay their premiums every month, but when they or their children or family members get sick, their insurance isn't there for them. That's not fair and it's not smart. This is a public health crisis that in some way touches every family in America. It's time to break down the barriers to good mental health and addiction treatment."
"It's time to finish what we started in 1994 with our friend and colleague, the late Senator Paul Wellstone, and end the discrimination against people with addiction," said Congressman Ramstad "This is not just another public policy issue. This is a life-or-death issue for millions of Americans."
The bill expands the Mental Health Parity Act of 1996 by requiring group health plans that offer benefits for mental health and addiction to do so on the same terms as care for other diseases. The legislation closes the loopholes that allow plans to charge higher copayments, coinsurance, deductibles, and maximum out-of-pocket limits and impose lower day and visit limits on mental health and addiction care.
According to the Government Accountability Office, nearly 90 percent of plans impose such financial limitations and treatment restrictions on mental health and addiction care despite voluminous scientific research documenting the biological, genetic, and chemical nature of these diseases, and the effectiveness of treatment. Both the House and Senate version of the bill applies to group health plans of 50 or more people.
Last month, The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved similar legislation, The Mental Health Parity Act of 2007, sponsored by Senators Kennedy (D-MA), Domenici (R-NM), and Enzi (R-WY). Among the differences is that the House bill, informed by the sponsors' forums across the country, requires health plans offering mental health benefits to cover the same mental health and addiction disorders that are included in the health plans Members of Congress use. The Senate bill has no such provision. The bills also differ in how they impact related state laws.
The Kennedy-Ramstad legislation is modeled after the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program, which covers Members of Congress and other federal workers and dependents and which implemented equality in mental health and addiction coverage in 2001. According to an exhaustive study published earlier this year by the Department of Health and Human Services, the federal employees' parity policy was implemented with "little or no increase in total MH/SA [mental health/substance abuse] spending".
A majority of respondents to a National Mental Health Association survey indicated that they would support parity legislation even if it meant a $1 per month increase to their premiums. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that such legislation will increase health care costs less than that amount.
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