Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Mental Health Parity Legislation--This May Be the Year

Federal legislation that would require health plans to cover mental illnesses in the same way they cover other illnesses has been on the Congressional health care agenda for years.

The late Democratic Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, along with his Republican colleague Pete Domenici of New Mexico, have been the longtime bipartisan champions of eliminating what are common limitations on coverage for mental illness. After Wellstone's untimely death in a plane crash, the issue picked up even more supporters--not the least of which was President Bush in 2002.

It has been clear for sometime that, even in the Republican Congress, there have been enough votes in both the House and the Senate to pass bipartisan mental parity legislation and that the President would sign it.

Employer groups and health insurers have lobbied against mental health parity legislation concerned that we not start a along list of federal benefit mandates.

Year after year, mental health parity legislation has languished in the Congress because then House Speaker Dennis Hastert would not let it come to a vote.

I don't think I am going out on a limb to predict that the current Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, is likely to take a different position.

This legislation will now follow "regular order" which means it will go through the appropriate committees before coming to either floor. Senator Kennedy has already predicted the legislation will pass his Senate Health, Education, and Labor Committee.

Mental health parity legislation appears to be an issue whose time has come in 2007.


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