Mental Health Parity on 2004 Agenda

Published February 1, 2004

Senator Judd Gregg (R-New Hampshire), chairman of the Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, and Senator Pete Domenici (R-New Mexico) are drafting compromise mental health parity legislation for consideration by the committee in early 2004. Details of the proposal were unavailable at press time.

Domenici and other supporters had hoped for a vote on the Senator Paul Wellstone Mental Health Equitable Treatment Act (S 486) in 2002, but Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tennessee) decided to move the bill through “regular order,” that is, through Gregg’s committee, rather than bring it directly to the Senate floor for debate and a vote.

Domenici is the lead sponsor of the bill, named after Senator Paul Wellstone (D-Minnesota), who died in a 2002 plane crash while campaigning for reelection. Among the bill’s 66 cosponsors are all 49 Senate Democrats. Both Domenici and Wellstone led a bipartisan effort to enact mental health parity legislation in 2002.

Domenici’s current bill would prohibit health plans from mandating higher copayments, deductibles, and coinsurance for mental health services. It would also reimburse for mental disorders identified in the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), published by the American Psychiatric Association. Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy (D-Rhode Island) introduced a companion bill (HR 953) in the House, which has 242 cosponsors.

Tom Bruderle is vice president of congressional affairs for the National Association of Health Underwriters (NAHU). His email address is [email protected]. Reprinted with permission.