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Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, our country has recently taken great steps forward to support the principles of mental health parity. In 2008, Congress has enacted two important pieces of legislation to end discrimination against people suffering from mental illnesses.

Congress passed the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, MHPAEA, to prohibit the establishment of discriminatory benefit caps or cost-sharing requirements for mental health and substance use disorders. That same year Congress also passed the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Protections Act, MIPPA, which included legislation introduced by Senator Snowe and myself, the Medicare Mental Health Copayment Equity Act. This legislation prevented Medicare beneficiaries from being charged higher copayments for outpatient mental health services than for all other outpatient physician services.

Unfortunately, even with the passage of MIPPA, a serious mental health inequity remains in Medicare. Medicare beneficiaries are currently limited to only 190 days of inpatient psychiatric hospital care in their lifetime. This lifetime limit directly impacts Medicare beneficiaries' access to psychiatric hospitals, although it does not apply to psychiatric units in general hospitals. This arbitrary cap on benefits is discriminatory to the mentally ill as there is no such lifetime limit for any other Medicare specialty inpatient hospital service. The 190-day lifetime limit is problematic for patients being treated in psychiatric hospitals as they may easily exceed the 190 days if they have a chronic mental illness.

That is why Senator Snowe and I are working together once again to address the last remaining mental health parity issue in Medicare. Today, we are introducing the Medicare Mental Health Inpatient Equity Act. Our legislation would eliminate the Medicare 190-day lifetime limit for inpatient psychiatric hospital care. It would equalize Medicare mental health coverage with private health insurance coverage, expand beneficiary choice of inpatient psychiatric care providers, increase access for the seriously ill, and improve continuity of care.

This legislation is supported by eighty national organizations that represent hospital associations, seniors' organizations, disability organizations, and the mental health community. I would like to thank a number of organizations who have been integral to the development of the Medicare Mental Health Inpatient Equity Act and who have endorsed our legislation today, including the AARP, the American Hospital Association, the National Association of Psychiatric Health Systems, and the American Psychological Association.

Congress has now acted to address mental health parity issues for group health plans and for outpatient Medicare services. It's time to end this outmoded law and ensure that beneficiaries with mental illnesses have access to a range of appropriate settings for their care. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate to achieve mental health parity in Medicare.

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