In a huge boost to behavioral-health providers, the U.S. House passed legislation that would require health insurance coverage for mental illness to be equal to coverage for physical illness when plans cover both. Introduced last year by Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) and Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.), the Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act of 2007 passed by a vote of 268-148. The bill includes benefits for substance-abuse disorders, and also says that if a plan does not include a treatment limit on medical and surgical benefits in any category of items or services, it may not impose any treatment limit on mental health or substance-related disorder benefits classified in the same category of items or services.
Last September, the Senate passed the Mental Health Parity Act of 2007, which was introduced by Rep. Kennedys father, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), and Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.). The differences between the two versionsspecifically with regard to out-of-network coveragecould take some time to resolve, said Mark Covall, executive director of the National Association of Psychiatric Health Systems, Washington. The House bill mandates out-of-network parity, Covall said. The Senate says you dont have to provide it, but if you do, it has to be at parity.
In a news release, Sens. Kennedy and Domenici applauded the House bill and said they look forward to working with their counterparts in the House to negotiate legislation to send to President Bush for his signature. -- by Jessica Zigmond