Advocacy for Congressional passage of mental health parity resumed at a fast pace with the introduction of the Paul Wellstone Mental Health Equitable Treatment Act in late February. The bill, sponsored by Sens. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Reps. Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.) and Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), maintains the same text as last year's broad-based parity bill, The Mental Health Equitable Treatment Act.
The legislation proposes full insurance coverage for mental health disorders equivalent to coverage for physical illnesses and surgery, including dollar limits, day or visit limits, co-insurance, deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums. The Wellstone parity act would also close loopholes--such as arbitrary limits on outpatient visits--in the 1996 Mental Health Parity Act, which was simply extended by Congress last year.
At Monitor press time, the challenges to passing the new bill included the loss of some former sponsors of the bill during last fall's elections and the possibility of military action in Iraq, say Marilyn Richmond, JD, associate executive director of government relations, and Peter Newbould, director of congressional affairs, both in APA's Practice Organization.
Though these challenges exist, Richmond and Newbould are hopeful that the bill will be introduced and passed early this spring. In fact, according to Newbould, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has made mental health parity a priority item on his agenda. Adds Richmond: "The fact that we had a hearing on this bill last year could give us a jump to the front of the line."
APA members can log on to www.APAPractice.org to contact their congressional representatives and to receive updates on the bill.
--J. DAW HOLLOWAY