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Mental Health Parity Extension Approved by House

On February 6, the House approved, 384-23, H.R. 4848, a bill that would extend, until December 31, 2008, a law (P.L. 104-204) that prohibits health plans offering medical and surgical benefits from imposing different lifetime or annual limits on mental health coverage. The current authorization (P.L. 109-432) expired on December 31, 2007.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), said, “Over 10 years ago, Congress passed, and President Clinton signed into law, legislation that required partial parity by mandating that annual and lifetime dollar limits for mental health treatment under group health plans offering mental health coverage be no less than that for physical illnesses. This legislation was authorized for five years, and has been extended every year with bipartisan support since its initial authorization expired. The bill before us would extend the Mental Health Parity Act for another year. I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support its passage.” He continued, “In spite of the 1996 law and widespread recognition that mental illness and substance abuse are treatable illnesses, there still exist glaring inequities between health insurance coverage for mental health and that for other medical conditions. As we all know, these inequities can have dire consequences for friends, families, and society in general…[B]y putting mental health on par with medical and surgical benefits, we will be improving the availability and affordability of health care for those who suffer from mental health illnesses and addiction diseases. This will not only reduce the pain and anguish of many of our constituents and their families, but will benefit our nation as a whole. So let’s extend the good work that has already been done and work together to build upon the framework so that we can improve the lives of millions of Americans.”

Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) said, “One in five Americans will suffer from a diagnosable mental illness. One in 10 young people suffer from mental illness severe enough to cause some form of impairment. Untreated drug and alcohol addictions cost Americans $400 billion each year. A Rand [Corporation] study estimated that depression alone cost employers $51 billion per year in absenteeism and lost productivity…Thirty thousand Americans commit suicide annually, and half a million attempt it. Among college students, three die each day from suicide.” He continued, “This bill extends what we have done before. It helps in a small but important way. But it does not move us to where we need to be. Perhaps the lesson here is that there are many things we need to do for ourselves, many things we need to do to reach out to others and help. But it does not cure the barriers. It does not identify which diagnoses need to be treated. We will need to do more. Eventually we as a nation need to come to terms with what needs to be done. The cost savings of providing the right treatment are huge. The costs of continuing to provide the wrong care, or denying care, are massive.”

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