Federal Mental Health Parity Legislation Will Pre-Empt Stronger State Laws

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Officials in Connecticut and at least eight other states are concerned that the federal mental health parity legislation (S 558) could result in weaker mental health benefits in some states, the Hartford Courant reports. The bill -- introduced by Sens. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) -- would require health insurers to provide the same level of coverage for treatment of mental illnesses as they provide for physical illnesses.

The measure would not require insurers to offer mental health coverage, nor does it specify which mental conditions would have to be covered. The Senate legislation also does not distinguish between small and large employer groups, and insurance plans could be exempt from the requirements of the bill if mental health coverage increases total plan costs by more than 2%.

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According to the Courant, the legislation would pre-empt stricter state parity laws, which is"somewhat unusual because federal laws often recognize that states may have already adopted stronger measures and don't pre-empt them."Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (D) said, "The federal Mental Health Parity Act will pre-empt and invalidate services in Connecticut and elsewhere, undermining and undoing important protections for our most vulnerable citizens."

In a letter to Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), Blumenthal and Kevin Lembo, a state healthcare advocate, write, "For there to be true mental health parity,mental health services must be provided without regard to artificial cost thresholds that would never be tolerated for physical health insurance policies." Domenici's press secretary, Chris Gallegos, on Wednesday said that Kennedy and Domenici are working to resolve the concerns about the legislation before it reaches the Senate floor(Levick, Hartford Courant, 7/26).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org

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