House Labor Committee Passes Mental Health Parity Bill

By a 33-9 vote, the U.S. House of Representatives Education and Labor Committee on July 18 passed the Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act (H.R. 1424), which is intended to ensure better access to treatment for people who suffer from mental illnesses. It would require group health insurance plans of 50 or more people to put coverage for mental illnesses on an equal footing with their coverage for physical illnesses.

"Today's vote is a victory in a long bipartisan effort to provide adequate health coverage to people who suffer from the debilitating, and sometimes life-threatening, effects of mental illness," said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the committee's chairman. "This landmark legislation would close the gap in coverage for people without adequate access to treatment for mental illnesses." For both types of illness, the bill would require group health plans to offer the same terms for deductibles, limits on hospital stays and outpatient visits, and copayments, among other things.

The bill, introduced by Reps. Patrick J. Kennedy, D-R.I., and Jim Ramstad, R-Minn., is modeled after the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program, which covers members of Congress and other federal workers and their dependents. "I am grateful my colleagues understand the critical nature of this legislation and after careful review have voted to continue the momentum towards passage," Kennedy said after the committee's vote. "This bill is about treating people equally. If you can get care for heart disease or cancer or diabetes out of network but you can't get care for alcoholism or depression or PTSD out of network, that's not equal."

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