The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to extend the Mental Health Parity Act of 1996 through the end of 2008, which would amend the Internal Revenue Code, Employee Retirement Income Security Act and Public Health Service Act provisions that require insurance plans to treat mental health benefits on the same level with medical and surgical benefits. Introduced by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), the bill passed 384 to 23. Initially, the act was authorized for five years and has since been extended each year.
Pallone called the legislation a good first step, but said Congress should pass the Paul Wellstone Mental Health Parity Act and Addiction Equity Act of 2007, which U.S. Reps. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) and Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.) introduced last year.
In spite of the 1996 law and widespread recognition that mental illness and substance abuse are treatable illnesses, glaring inequities still exist between health insurance coverage for mental health and that for other medical conditions, Pallone said in a news release. As we all know, these inequities have dire consequences.
In a summary last October, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the Kennedy-Ramstad bill would increase federal direct spending for Medicaid by $310 million over the 2008-2012 period and by $820 million between 2008-2017.
The legislation to extend the 1996 act must now move to the Senate, but a date for that consideration has not been scheduled, according to Pallones office. -- by Jessica Zigmond
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