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House Subcommittee Hears Testimony On Mental Health Parity Legislation

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Mental Health Parity Legislation

House Education and LaborHealth, Education, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee Chair Robert Andrews(D-N.J.) and ranking member John Kline (R-Minn.) during a hearing onTuesday said they support mental health parity legislation, although itis unclear whether they agree on how strong such legislation should bein mandating coverage, CongressDaily reports (Johnson, CongressDaily, 7/11).

The House and Senate have proposed separate versions of the legislation (HR 1424 and S 558) that both have similar goals but differ in the scope of benefits they would affect, CQ HealthBeat reports.

Neil Trautwein, vice president of the National Retail Federation,said that the House bill would not give employers or insurers enoughpower to manage the costs of mental health benefits. He said, "Surelythe sponsors of HR 1424 are not advocating unfettered access tocoverage and reimbursement, are they?"

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Jon Breyfogle, representing the American Benefits Council,added that the House legislation "does not establish 'parity' at allbecause it requires much more specificity of coverage than is requiredfor any non-behavioral conditions."

The Senate mental healthparity legislation would leave it to employers to determine the scopeof mental health benefits to which parity provisions applied, CQ HealthBeat reports. Wisconsin Insurance CommissionerSean Dilweg said that parity laws in many states would be at risk ofbeing "weakened or completely eliminated" by language in the Senateversion of the legislation.

Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter,who testified at the hearing, said, "These laws have been long-foughtbattles with some states managing wonderful successes," adding, "It isso important that any federal legislation not pre-empt any of thesegains."

At the hearing, Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.) -- whosponsored the House legislation with Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) --said that "CEO after CEO after CEO" has told him that parity provisionssaved money because of gains in employee productivity.

Andrewssaid that he thinks the House provisions that control medical costs areadequate, despite criticisms from business groups. Andrews said he isnot sure when his panel will mark up the legislation but noted thatHouse Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is committed to passing mentalhealth parity legislation this year (CQ HealthBeat, 7/10).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. Youcan view the entire Kaiser DailyHealth Policy Report, search the archives, and sign up for email deliveryat kaisernetwork.org/email. The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, afree service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.