Mental health parity bill

I haven’t posted anything on legislation that relates to mental health care so it’s about time I did.

On March 6, the House approved the Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act, a mental health parity bill that will require most medical insurance companies to provide better treatment for mental illnesses akin to what they do for physical illnesses. This is a significant move considering that insurers who cover mental health treatment can currently do one of two things: make patients pay for the bulk of the cost or place limits on treatment. The Senate also passed a similar bill in September 2007. Here’s what both pieces of legislation would do:

Both bills would outlaw health insurance practices that set lower
limits on treatment or higher co-payments for mental health services
than for other medical care.

Typical annual limits include 30 visits to a doctor or 30 days of
hospital care for treatment of a mental disorder. Such limits would no
longer be allowed if the insurer had no limits on treatment of
conditions like cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

As a result, the cost of group health insurance premiums likely will go up. However, the bills do not apply to businesses with 50 employees or less or individual insurance.

According to the NYTimes, President Bush initially endorsed mental health parity but came out opposing the current bill because it “would effectively mandate coverage of a broad range of diseases.” Technically, he’s right.

Under the bill, if an insurer chooses to provide mental health
coverage, it must “include benefits” for any mental health condition
listed in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual
of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association.

The protections of the House bill apply to people who need treatment for alcohol and drug abuse, as well as mental illness.

Covering a broad range of conditions is a step forward, but I realize if group insurers are forced to pay for all conditions listed in the DSM, I can see why premiums would go up. It wouldn’t surprise me if costs increased significantly. No one likes to hear this but if people want better mental health coverage, they need to be willing to pay for it. For those who suffer with mental illnesses, it’s certainly worth the cost.

(By the way, only 47 Republicans joined the 221 Democrats in helping to pass the measure. It has nothing to do with the overall importance of the bill but it was a little annoyance that I had to throw in here. Grr.)

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1 Comment

  1. Prester John said,

    March 17, 2008 at 10:34 am

    I haven’t read or thought about this enough to comment intelligently, but I never let that stop me. (Maybe I should run for office.)
    I tend to dislike the whole mental-illness label because almost all of the symptoms of them are the result of the brain not working right, and all of them the result of some part of the body malfunctioning, thus they are physical illnesses.
    I think the DSM has gone overboard on a lot of things but it’s just a notion and I can’t back it up. Nevertheless, if a couple of MDs say someone is sick, be it mental, physical, or whatever, then the afflicted should be entitled to healthcare. (My position on this has changed dramatically over the last 10 years or so. A collision with reality will do that to you.)


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