Mental health parity caught up in economic rescue plan

Here is a news release from the American Mental Health Counselors Association regarding the intertwining of mental health parity and the economic rescue debate…

E-News from Washington
Vol. 08-39
October 1, 2008
Parity Legislation Now Part of Bailout Package
Congress remains focused on passage of a major package of measure to relieve the crisis in the financial industry. The House failed in its attempt to pass a bailout package on Tuesday, September 30. This evening, October 1, the Senate will attempt to pass a slightly modified relief package, which also includes mental health and addictive disorder parity legislation and an array of tax policy provisions. The mental health parity language included in the Senate鈥檚 bailout package is the same language as was approved by both the House and the Senate last week as part of a larger package of tax policy renewals and extensions. The tax package, including the parity provisions, has been stalled due to disagreements between Democrats in the House and Republicans in the Senate regarding the extent to which tax credits and breaks should be paid for.
Although the Senate is expected to approve the new, expanded bailout package, including the mental health parity and tax extenders provisions, it is unclear how the legislation will be received by House members. AMHCA and ACA will attempt to keep members apprised of developments as they occur. In the meantime, counselors are encouraged to continue contacting their Representatives and Senators to urge the enactment of parity legislation before Congress adjourns for the year.

I have blogged about parity before and am generally in favor of this kind of legislation. I understand that requiring insurers to cover certain conditions may seem like an undue interference in the market. However, I think most opposition comes from a misunderstanding that severe mental and emotional conditions have much of their genesis in the brain as the organ of consciousness.

Mental health parity bill (HR 1424) debated this week

A bill that would force employers to provide mental health and addictions treatment coverage on par with medical conditions will be debated again this week. I say again because parity as a concept has been debated for a decade. It appears that this bill or something akin to it (HR 1424; SB 558) might pass this time around.

WashingtonWatch.com has this description:

Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act of 2007 – Amends the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), the Public Health Service Act, and the Internal Revenue Code to prohibit treatment limits or the imposition of financial requirements on mental health and substance-related disorder benefits in group health plans which are not similarly imposed on substantially all medical and surgical benefits in any category of items or services under such plans.

Directs the Comptroller General to study the effect of the implementation of this Act on various aspects of the health care system, including the cost of and access to health insurance coverage, the quality of health care, Medicare, Medicaid, and state and local mental health and substance abuse treatment spending, and spending on public services.

I favor this bill. Families are often frustrated in their efforts to care for a family members with a mental or emotional disorder due to inconsistent and inadequate insurance coverage. With inadequate coverage, very few people can afford to pay for treatment of chronic disorders. Psychiatric disorders are major causes of diability but with adequate care, some diabilities can be addressed in an effective manner. Even with a significant mental disorder, people can continue to work productively if they have proper care.

For those inclined, the American Counseling Association has a position paper with suggestions for calling legislators to register viewpoints about the issue.