The mental health community today praised Representatives Patrick Kennedy and Jim Ramstad for their having achieved cosponsorship of the Paul Wellstone Mental Health Equitable Treatment Act by a majority of the House for the third Congress in a row. Of the 219 cosponsors of H.R. 1402, 32 are Republicans.
Parity legislation has more cosponsors than any of the 101 other bills and resolutions that have been referred to the primary committee of jurisdiction, the Employer-Employee Relations Subcommittee, Education and the Workforce Committee. The only other piece of legislation that even comes close, H.R. 1696 with 204 cosponsors, pertains to labor rights.
And, of the 498 bills and resolutions referred to the other subcommittee of jurisdiction, the Energy & Commerce Health Subcommittee, H.R. 1402 has the fourth largest number of cosponsors.
Last month we called on the Congressional leaders to pass parity legislation this year. This bill is supported by 283 groups nationally (see http://www.mhlg.org/11-08-05.pdf). This is an issue that may not be ignored.
Press Release From Kennedy Office:
CONGRESSMEN KENNEDY & RAMSTAD ANNOUNCE MAJORITY FOR MENTAL HEALTH PARITY
Lawmakers Urge Vote on Mental Health Parity in Early 2006
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WASHINGTON - Congressmen Patrick J. Kennedy (D-RI) and Jim Ramstad (R-MN ) today announced that for the third Congress in a row, a majority of Representatives have cosponsored legislation aimed at ensuring that health plans offer fair coverage for mental health care. They also urged the House leadership to bring up the bill, called the Paul Wellstone Mental Health Equitable Treatment Act (H.R.1402) after the late Senator who championed the cause, early in the new year when Congress returns.
To date, a bipartisan coalition of 219 Members of the House have already added their names as cosponsors of H.R. 1402. These members recognize the critical nature of this mental health parity bill to eliminate discrimination in mental health care coverage.
"Every day that we wait to take action to prevent the insurance industry from discriminating between physical and mental illnesses is another day 82 Americans will die of suicide," said Kennedy. "It's another day that American business will lose $85 million in lost productivity to depression alone. It's another day that thousands of children will be in state custody instead of home with their parents. It's another night on the streets for 200,000 Americans. Parity is the right thing to do, it's the smart thing to do, it has wide support among the public and in both Houses, and I implore my colleagues to take a vote on this issue immediately when we return next year."
"The American people should not be forced to wait any longer for Congress to knock down the barriers to treatment for mental illness," said Congressman Jim Ramstad. "Congress must hear their call and pass the Paul Wellstone Mental Health Equitable Treatment Act!"
Despite the bill's majority support in the House of Representatives for the last five years, House leaders have refused to bring it to the Floor for debate or a vote, nor has any House Committee brought it up for consideration. Under House rules, House leadership and Committee chairmen have nearly absolute control over the calendar for the House Floor and the committees, respectively.
The Paul Wellstone Mental Health Equitable Treatment Act expands 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 other physical health services. 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 care.
According to the General Accounting Office, nearly 90 percent of plans impose such restrictions despite voluminous scientific research documenting the biological and chemical nature of mental illnesses, including addiction, and the effectiveness of many treatments in managing the diseases. The bill 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.
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 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 the Kennedy/Ramstad legislation will increase health care costs by around one percent.
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