A bill to expand 6-year-old mental health insurance protections is on its way to President Bush following passage last week in the House and Senate. Lobbyists expect Bush to sign the bill. Enacted in 1996, the original "mental health parity" law prohibited the setting of annual and lifetime dollar limits on mental health coverage. Legislation introduced last year by Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) and the late Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) would take the 1996 law further by prohibiting all limits on mental health services, such as the number of allowed outpatient visits. "Our goal is to end insurance discrimination against people with mental illness ... and the enactment of legislation that would provide full mental health parity," Ralph Ibson, vice president of government affairs at the National Mental Health Association, told Modern Healthcare's Daily Dose.
In other Washington news, the American Medical Association launched a last-ditch lobbying effort to avert scheduled Medicare payment cuts to physicians. As the AMA told reporters about the serious impact the cuts would have, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) explained why the Senate is unlikely to fix the physician payment formula this year. "The House-passed language attempts to 'fix' the physician problem for free through budget gimmickry and ineffective legal language," Baucus said in a written statement. "I oppose this provision as it is currently drafted, and I urge my colleagues to do the same." -- by Jeff Tieman