U.S. Senators Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) today praised the inclusion of a long-awaited mental health parity agreement in a tax package that could move through Congress this fall.
The three lawmakers are the primary authors of new Mental Health Parity legislation, which the Senate Finance Committee has agreed to include, with required offsets, in its tax extenders legislation. The tax bill could move through the Senate soon.
"The Finance Committee's work is wonderful news and a monumental step toward ensuring that millions of Americans with mental illnesses are treated more fairly," Domenici said. "We've worked on this mission for more than 10 years, and I am excited that this Congress is on the verge of approving a rare bipartisan agreement to end the unfair standard now applied to mental health insurance coverage and give the mentally ill the care they need."
Anthony Coley, spokesman for Kennedy, chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, said, "What a great day. Senator Kennedy has been working closely with Chairman Baucus, who has been instrumental in getting us to this critical point. Senator Kennedy is extremely pleased with this victory for the millions of Americans who have been denied equality in their mental health care and treatment. He will keep working closely with his colleagues in both parties and on both sides of the Capitol to get this across the finish line."
"I'm pleased that we may have found a path forward for Congress to pass critical mental health parity legislation into law this year. This legislation will bring fairness and relief to millions of Americans with mental illness. It unites mental health advocacy, provider, employer, and insurance communities to advance a noble goal of helping families who need relief. The bill is years, if not decades, in the making, and reflects countless hours of sweat and negotiation. I want to thank Senator Domenici and Senator Kennedy for their invaluable leadership on this important issue," said Enzi, ranking Republican on the HELP Committee.
Domenici, Kennedy and Enzi authored the Mental Health Parity Act of 2007 (S.558), which was passed in the Senate by unanimous consent in September 2007. The lawmakers reached a subsequent agreement with parity advocates in the House of Representatives and have since worked to find suitable offsets to pay for the legislation.
The new Mental Health Parity Act builds on a 1996 Mental Health Parity law by requiring health insurance plans that offer mental health coverage to provide that coverage on par with financial and treatment coverage offered for other physical illnesses. The legislation developed in talks with mental health, insurance and business organizations to craft compromise legislation. It does not mandate that group plans must provide any mental health coverage, but will improve coverage for about 113 million Americans.
The 1996 parity law, authored by Domenici and the late Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone, only provided parity for annual and lifetime limits between mental health coverage and medical surgical coverage.
The new parity legislation expands parity by including deductibles, co-payments, out-of-pocket expenses, coinsurance, covered hospital days, and covered out-patient visits. The measure also includes a small business exemption for companies with fewer than 50 employees, as well as a cost exemption for all businesses.