House Panel Passes Mental Health Parity Bill

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The House Education and Labor Committee on Wednesday voted 33 to 9 to approve legislation (HR 1424) that would require health insurers to provide equal insurance coverage levels for mental and physical illnesses, CQ Today reports.

The legislation differs somewhat from a Senate measure (S 558)passed earlier this year. The House bill would establish a federalparity as a minimum and not pre-empt states that have stricter parityprovisions in place, while the Senate measure would pre-empt state lawsregarding financial requirements and treatment limitations and wouldnot allow them to impose more stringent guidelines. At least 35 stateshave mental health parity laws, some of which are more extensive thaneither bill, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (Kimitch, CQ Today, 7/18).

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The House bill, which was sponsored by Reps. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) and Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.), has 268 co-sponsors (Leonatti, CongressDaily,7/18). Some House Republicans "insisted that the Senate bill representsa negotiated compromise and stands a better chance of becoming law," CQ Todayreports. Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) offered the Senate measure as asubstitute amendment to the House version, but the move was rejected 27to 16.

Kline said, "The Senate bill is the product of twoyears of bipartisan negotiations between a broad, well-respected groupof senators, mental health advocates, providers and business groups,who represent virtually all interests in the debate." He added, "TheHouse bill starts to immediately unravel support of the Senatecompromise" (CQ Today, 7/18).

Committee ChairGeorge Miller (D-Calif.) noted that 46 states have laws regulatingmental health coverage but that federal law restricts the reach ofthose laws, and "many people are still left without sufficient mentalhealth coverage" (CongressDaily, 7/18).
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