House Passes Mental Health Parity Bill

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would require insurance companies to provide equal coverage for both physical ailments and mental illness.

Thursday March 6th - 9:46am

In a 268 to 148 vote, the House passed a bill that would require insurance companies to cover every mental health diagnosis currently in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association, if they choose to cover mental health care at all. This provision would require coverage for people in need of substance dependence treatment, as well as other mental illnesses.

The bill is similar to one previously passed by the Senate, which requires equal coverage of mental and physical disorders.

Currently, federal law allows insurance companies to discriminate between mental and physical disorders, and most do. Although they cannot set dollar limits on mental health care, either annually or for a person's lifetime, most insurers set higher co-payments, or limit mental health coverage in other ways, like setting a maximum number of hospital days that can be covered.

Approximately 35 million Americans suffer from debilitating symptoms of mental illness. The movement to provide better healthcare for these individuals has been precipitated by research that has found likely biological causes and effective treatments for mental illnesses, a number of companies that now specialize in managing mental health benefits, making the costs to insurers and employers more affordable, and the growing acceptance and fading stigma of mental illness in society.

The new bill does not include health plans for small businesses-those sponsored by an employer with 50 or fewer employees-or individual insurance plans. Companies could also still deny coverage they consider not medically necessary.

While most insurers and employers supported the Senate bill, many oppose the House version. President Bush also opposed the House bill, while saying that he agrees with the principle of parity in insurance coverage.

Critics of the House bill say that it will increase costs to employers and workers, although the Congressional Budget Office estimates that it will only raise premiums four-tenths of 1 percent. They also point out the vast number of diagnoses covered in the DSM and say the all or nothing aspect of the bill makes it unappealing to insurance companies.

Despite these critics, the passing of the House bill brings insurance parity one step closer.

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