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Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions S. 853

Location: Washington, DC

S. 853. A bill to amend title XVIII of the Social Security Act to eliminate discriminatory copayment rates for outpatient psychiatric services under the medicare program; to the Committee on Finance.

Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, I am pleased to join my colleague Senator Snowe in introducing the Medicare Mental Health Copayment Equity Act. This legislation will establish mental health care parity in the Medicare program.
Medicare currently requires patients to pay a 20 percent co-payment for all Part B services except mental health care services, for which patients are assessed a 50 percent co-payment. Thus, under the current system, if a Medicare patient sees an endocrinologist for diabetes treatment, an oncologist for cancer treatment, a cardiologist for heart disease treatment or an internist for treatment of the flu, the co-payment is 20 percent of the cost of the visit. If, however, a Medicare patient visits a psychiatrist for treatment of mental illness, the co-payment is 50 percent of the cost of the visit. This disparity in outpatient co-payments represents blatant discrimination against Medicare beneficiaries with mental illness.

The prevalence of mental illness in older adults is considerable. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, 20 percent of older adults in the community and 40 percent of older adults in primary care settings experience symptoms of depression, while as many as one out of every two residents in nursing homes are at risk of depression. The elderly have the highest rate of suicide in the United States, and there is a clear correlation between major depression and suicide: 60 to 70 percent of suicides among patients 75 and older have diagnosable depression. In addition to our seniors, 400,000 non-elderly disabled Medicare beneficiaries become Medicare-eligible by virtue of severe and persistent mental disorders. To subject the mentally disabled to discriminatory costs in coverage for the very conditions for which they became Medicare eligible is illogical and unfair.

There is ample evidence that mental illness can be treated. Unfortunately, those in need of treatment often do not seek it because they are ashamed of their condition. Among our Medicare population, the mentally ill face a double burden: not only must they overcome the stigma about their illness, but once they seek treatment they must pay one-half of the cost of care out of their own pocket. The Medicare Mental Health Copayment Equity Act will phase-down the 50 percent co-payment for mental health care services to 20 percent over six years. By applying the same co-payment rate to mental health services to which all other outpatient services are subjected, the Medicare Mental Health Copayment Equity Act will bring parity to the Medicare program and improve access to care for our senior and disabled beneficiaries who are living with mental illness. I urge my colleagues to join with us to pass this critical legislation.

I ask unanimous consent that several letters of support be printed in the RECORD.

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