Earlier today, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the $700 billion bailout bill, which included the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008.
This Act, a compromise that’s been years in the making, mandates that all employers with more than 50 employees offer mental health coverage that’s comparable to their physical health benefits. The Senate already approved the bailout bill on Wednesday, so the Act will now become law upon President Bush’s signature.
The bill will end the discriminatory practice of setting higher co-payments and limiting mental health access to treatments to people covered by insurance plans in the U.S. It requires that mental health treatment limits be equal to the limits for standard medical and surgical care. The bill has enjoyed strong bipartisan and Presidential support throughout its arduous journey during this Congressional session.
The new bill ends discrimination for mental health treatment payment and coverage in the U.S. In the past, insurers might refuse to cover more than 20 or 30 visits a year to a psychotherapist. A patient under the existing system would also typically have to make higher co-payments for mental health treatment, such as paying 40 percent or more for a mental health specialist, but only paying 20 percent of the cost for visiting a cancer specialist.
Small businesses of less than 50 employees are exempt from the new regulations.
This is not the first time Congress has attempted to address this disparity. Under a 1996 law, health plans were forbidden to set annual or lifetime dollar limits on mental health care that were lower than the limits for other services. Insurance companies, however, have gotten around the requirement by simply charging higher co-payments and setting stricter limits for mental health services.
Over 110 million Americans will be positively affected by the new legislation. President Bush is expected to sign the legislation immediately.
Source: Wire and news reports