U.S. Senators Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) today praised final House passage of legislation that includes their bipartisan mental health parity agreement that will improve mental health coverage for an estimated 113 million Americans.
In approving the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act (HR.1424) Friday, the House also agreed to a tax extenders package that includes the mental health parity legislation. The package will now be sent to President Bush, who has indicated his support for the measure.
Final passage of the parity legislation and its expected enactment culminates years of effort by Domenici, Kennedy, Enzi and Dodd. The Senators made it a priority to enact new legislation in the 110th Congress to build on the 1996 Mental Health Parity Act authored by Domenici and the late Senator Paul Wellstone, who died in 2002.
"We are ushering in a new era of health care for those with mental illnesses. No longer will we allow mental health to be treated as a stepchild in the health care system. If you have insurance, then your mental health care must be equal to the benefits you get for any other disease," Domenici said. "I appreciate all the partners I've had in this long, long effort but most especially Senator Kennedy, who has been remarkable and stepped up to this work after Paul Wellstone's tragic death. This has been a labor of love for us."
"Today's historic passage of mental health parity legislation will make a huge difference for the one in five Americans facing mental illness. The miracles of modern medicine make mental illnesses just as treatable today as physical illnesses," said Kennedy. "After 10 years of debate, Congress has finally agreed to end the senseless discrimination in health insurance coverage that plagues persons living with mental illness for so long. It will now be the law of the land that people with such illnesses deserve the same access to affordable coverage as those with physical illnesses. It's a great day for everyone who believes in fairness and fundamental justice for all."
"Final passage of this mental health parity legislation is a watershed moment for millions of Americans with mental illness and their families. This landmark achievement unites the mental health advocacy, health care provider, employer, and insurance communities to bring fairness and relief to individuals and families who need help. The bill is years, if not decades, in the making, and reflects countless hours of sweat and negotiation. I want to thank Senator Domenici, Senator Kennedy, and Senator Dodd for their invaluable leadership to bring an end to the legislative paralysis on this important issue," Enzi said.
"Today, Congress has given hope to the millions of Americans and their families who live with mental illness," said Dodd. "No longer will they have to suffer alone. Instead, they will be treated with the same level of care, dignity and respect as those with physical ailments. It has been a long, hard struggle, but knowing that this bill will help millions of our nation's citizens, it was well worth the fight."
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. That bill had 57 cosponsors, including Dodd who has been instrumental in moving the parity legislation forward. 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 Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act would require health insurance plans that offer mental health coverage to provide the same financial and treatment coverage offered for other physical illnesses. The legislation was 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.
The 1996 parity law 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.