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Senate Passes Mental Health Parity Legislation

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Senate Passes Mental Health Parity Legislation

Mental Health Parity Legislation

The Senate on Tuesday night by unanimous consent passed legislation (S 558)that would require health insurers to provide the same level ofcoverage for treatment of mental illnesses as they do for physicalillnesses, the AP/San Francisco Chronicle reports (Frommer, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 9/18).

Thebill would exempt companies with fewer than 50 employees. In addition,the bill would exempt group health plans and companies in the eventthat the cost of coverage for treatment of mental illnesses andsubstance abuse exceeded 2% of the total plan cost in the first year or1% in each subsequent year. The legislation would not pre-empt statemental health parity laws (Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, 2/15).

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Sen.Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), one of the bill's three co-sponsors, said,"The passage tonight of the mental health parity bill underscores ourcommitment to treat all patients facing all diseases with the dignityand respect they deserve," adding, "This new legislation will bringdramatic new help to millions of Americans who today are denied neededmental health care and treatment."

House Vote Urged

Earlier on Tuesday, supporters of the House mental health parity bill (HR 1424)"inundated" the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), urgingher to schedule a vote on the House bill, according to the AP/Chronicle.Brendan Daly, a Pelosi spokesperson, said she supports the legislation,which has 270 co-sponsors, and has a realistic vote date ofmid-October.

Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), who co-sponsoredthe House Bill along with Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.), said, "That's notjust another public policy issue," adding, "That's a life-or-deathissue for millions of Americans." He predicts the House bill will passbefore the end of the year (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 9/18).

Rep.Kennedy added he would rather wait until after the next election topush the House legislation than accept the Senate version. However, heacknowledged that parity proponents likely would not want to wait until2009 to pass a law (CongressDaily, 9/19). Ramstad, whothis week announced that he will not seek re-election next year, said,"That's the most important legacy I could leave to literally millionsof Americans, and we're going to get that done" (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 9/18).

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.