Congress to Expand Mental Health Coverage

March 10, 2008 10:15 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Congress approved legislation requiring equal insurance coverage for mental and physical illnesses. But opinions differ as to what “equal” means.

30-Second Summary

Both houses of Congress have approved bills expanding requirements for mental health coverage, aimed at ending discrimination in how insurance plans cover mental illnesses.

“Illness of the brain must be treated just like illness anywhere else in the body,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told the New York Times.

The legislation comes after a decade-long effort by advocates to expand a 1996 mental health parity law, which prohibits insurers from setting dollar limits on mental health coverage that are lower than caps for other illnesses.

This year’s House and Senate bills would end other common practices seen as discriminatory, such as setting higher co-payments, or allowing fewer office visits, for mental health treatment than are allowed for physical disorders.

But the House version says that if mental health coverage is offered, it must include all illnesses listed in a lengthy American Psychiatric Association (APA) diagnostic manual. The Senate bill requires equitable treatment for mental illnesses, but doesn’t define what conditions must be covered.

APA President Carolyn Rabinowitz said the House bill would end the current “travesty” in which insurers can “openly discriminate against a patient by diagnosis.”

But others fear the House bill would override laws in about 28 states that currently require coverage for “serious” mental health issues, and would allow employers to drop mental health coverage entirely, say both the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Critics of both bills, such as blogger Mike Lief, oppose them as “socialized medicine." Lief labels the House bill “government-mandated coverage for caffeine highs, insomnia” and other unproven illnesses.

Headline Link: ‘House Approves Bill on Mental Health Parity’

Opinion & Analysis: ‘Slow-motion rush toward socialized medicine’ or ‘Huge Victory?’

Reference: History of mental health parity in Congress, legislation text


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