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Congressional Negotiators Hitting Roadblocks On Mental Health Parity Legislation

Armen Hareyan's picture

Mental Health Parity Legislation

Sponsors of the House and Senate versions of legislation (HR 1424 and S 558)that would require most health insurers to provide equal levels ofcoverage for physical and mental illnesses are "bumping up against"conflicts in negotiations that could "thwart" the bill's passage thisyear, CongressDaily reports. Over the last month, Housesponsors Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) and Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.) have metwith Senate sponsors Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) and Edward Kennedy(D-Mass.) to discuss possible compromises. "We are at a delicate pointin the negotiations," Ramstad said (Johnson, CongressDaily, 11/19).

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TheHouse bill includes provisions not included in the Senate legislation,including a broader definition of medical conditions that insurerswould have to cover. In addition, the Senate bill would take effect oneyear after the legislation becomes law, while the House bill would beimplemented Jan. 1, 2008 (Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, 10/17).

Domenicisaid that the talks have been difficult. He added, "The discussion hascentered around the fact we cannot modify this bill and get it throughthe Senate unless the modifications have no consequence, in whichevent, why would they want them? They know that, and I think theybelieve us." Lawmakers also are facing challenges in determining whereto find the $4 billion in costs associated with the House bill tocomply with pay/go rules. The House bill cleared three committees, "allof which are expected to help find the money," but the House Ways and Means Committee "might be asked to carry the heaviest load," CongressDaily reports.

However,the Ways and Means Committee "might use its health-related revenueraisers to offset" a scheduled cut for physicians under Medicare,rather than funding the mental health parity legislation, according to CongressDaily.Lawmakers could offset some cost by delaying the effective date of themental health bill. The Senate bill did not identify offsets. Anychanges agreed on by the lawmakers could be added as a manager'samendment to the House bill before it reaches the floor (CongressDaily, 11/19).

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 HealthPolicy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The HenryJ. Kaiser Family Foundation.