Representative Heather Wilson offered an amendment in a Health Subcommittee mark-up today to H.R. 1424, The Paul Wellstone Mental Health Addiction Equity Act of 2007, in order to strengthen the bill and ensure it closely resembles S. 588, the already-passed Senate mental health bill. The Senate bill was authored by Senators Pete Domenici and Ted Kennedy.
Wilson's amendment would replace a section of the bill dealing with mental health parity for health insurance plans with language from the Senate bill. Wilson's amendment failed 9 to 19.
Wilson supports passage of strong mental health parity legislation, but believes the Senate bill is much better policy than the bill currently under consideration in the House.
Mental health parity would eliminate the financial disparities in group health plans with regards to co-pays and deductibles and restrictions on the number of visits experienced by those afflicted with mental illness compared those who suffer from physical medical conditions.
The House bill requires coverage of all mental health conditions listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV) manual if any mental conditions are covered.
"By requiring plans to cover all conditions in the DSM IV manual, it makes it more likely that employers and health insurance companies won't cover any mental health benefits. This would hurt coverage for serious mental health conditions like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia," says Wilson.
Wilson's amendment would have fixed this situation by adopting the Senate standard that allows insurance plans to cover only serious, biologically-based mental conditions. "This legislation should strengthen coverage of mental conditions and improve access to needed benefits, not weaken them."
Wilson is also concerned that the House-introduced legislation preempts state laws in some areas when convenient, and does not preempt state laws in other areas. It allows for the preemption of state coverage laws when weaker than the new federal standard, but may allow new causes of action in state courts because it does not preempt state laws on "rights and remedies."
The Senate bill is authored by Senators Pete Domenici and Ted Kennedy. Domenici has been working on the issue of mental health parity for more than ten years. The Senate bill is a product of negotiations over two years and represents a bipartisan compromise supported by the mental health community, business, and the insurance industry.
"I've spent much of my career trying to raise mental health awareness and to end discrimination against people who suffer from these illnesses. I am pleased the House is actively debating mental health parity legislation, and Senator Kennedy and I are committed to getting the President a bill to sign this year," said Domenici.
The Senate bill is the only language that can pass the Senate and become law.
New Mexico is home to approximately 370,000 individuals with some form of mental disorder. Of those, 71,000 adults have a serious mental illness, which includes individuals with schizophrenia, manic depression, major depression, panic disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. In addition, there are nearly 19,000 children and adolescents in New Mexico with a severe emotional disturbance.