Mental Health Parity: One Step Closer
In the media maelstrom surrounding the current financial crisis, legislation with dramatic consequences for millions of Americans has gone almost unnoticed. Earlier this week both Houses of Congress approved bills that would require group health insurance plans to provide equivalent coverage for mental and physical illnesses.
Known as mental health parity, versions of this proposed legislation have been kicking around Congress for nearly 10 years. In 1996, Congress passed the Mental Health Parity Act, which made it illegal for health plans to set annual or lifetime limits on mental health care that were lower than the limits for other services. However many insurers circumvented the law by capping the number of outpatient office visits or days of inpatient care.
The Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 passed the House on September 23, 2008, by a vote of 376-47. In the Senate, the parity bill has been rolled into the Renewable Energy and Job Creation Act of 2008, which would extend and add tax breaks for energy conservation and alternative fuels.
Although the Senate and House passed two different versions of the bill, there is considerable support for the substance of the legislation, which would require that the limits of coverage for mental illness or substance abuse be no more restrictive than those that apply to medical and surgical benefits.
However, it is worth noting that the proposed legislation:
- only applies to businesses with more than 50 employees
- does not compel employers to offer mental health coverage
It remains to be seen if a compromise bill can squeak through in the final days of the second session of 110th Congress, which was originally supposed to recess on September 26. Debate has been stalled while both Houses struggle with the financial crisis and the $700 billion bailout proposal by the Treasury department.
Notes from NEDA
We've just returned from the annual conference of the National Eating Disorders Association in Austin, Texas. One of the highlights was a panel discussion entitled, "No More Denial About Exercise! Using a Comprehensive Treatment Team Approach to Address Overexercise in ED Clients."
The room was packed for a lively discussion of healthy versus unhealthy exercise. This panel of experts, including Mirasol therapist Diane Ryan, is considering drafting national standards for fitness centers to help raise awareness about the link between compulsive exercise and eating disorders.
We also appreciated a review of progress in obtaining insurance coverage for eating disorders by Dr. Edward Tyson and Scott Glovsky, a California trial attorney who specializes in health-related litigation.
Glovsky, who worked with Michael Moore on the film "Sicko", has successfully used standards established by the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) and the California Health & Safety Code to appeal denials of coverage for eating disorders and other mental illnesses.
Glovsky's web site includes several excellent articles on HMO bad faith litigation.
Photos: Above, Mirasol therapist Diane Ryan addresses a packed session on healthy exercise at NEDA. Right: Austin dietitian Amanda Mellowspring and Marketing Manager Marion MacDonald with Mirasol's signature sunflower bouquet.
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