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Congress OKs mental health parity bill

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Congress Passes Mental Health Parity Legislation

Consumers Union Praises Landmark Legislation to End Insurers’
Discrimination Against Americans Suffering From Mental Illness

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The House and Senate passed legislation today that requires health insurers to provide coverage that treats mental health and substance abuse claims on par with physical health benefits. The House passed a stand-alone mental health parity bill, while the Senate passed it as part of the tax extenders bill.
“It’s time to end insurance discrimination against Americans suffering from mental illness and addiction,” said Adrienne Hahn, Senior Attorney/Program Manager for Consumers Union. “This bill helps ensure that millions of Americans will be treated more fairly and get the care they need to stay healthy.”
Millions of Americans need mental health and addiction treatment but are not getting it. Each year, 1.3 billion work days are lost due to mental disorders, more than arthritis, stroke, heart attack and cancer combined. If enacted into law, the new federal mental health parity measure would:

• Completely end insurance discrimination against mental health and substance use disorder benefits for over 113 million Americans, requiring full parity coverage with physical health benefits.

• Preserve strong state parity and consumer protection laws while extending parity protection to 82 million more people who cannot be protected by state laws.

• Ensure parity coverage for both in-network and out-of-network services.

The story of Kim Witczak of Minneapolis helps illustrate how consumers can be treated unfairly by insurers when it comes to mental health issues. After Witczak’s husband committed suicide, she went through grief counseling to deal with her loss. Right before her COBRA health coverage ran out, Witczak applied for an individual health plan. She was able to get coverage through another insurer, but only on the condition that she not file any counseling claims for two years.
Witczak’s story was chronicled as part of Consumer Reports Health’s Cover America Tour, which highlighted the difficulties Americans face getting the healthcare they need. Videos of Americans telling their healthcare stories, including Witczak’s, can be found at www.CoverAmericaTour.org
“This measure stops insurance companies from setting higher co-pays or placing stricter limits on mental health benefits,” said Hahn. “It will level the playing field for those suffering from mental illness and give them the same protections and coverage as those with physical ailments.”
Adrienne Hahn: 202-462-6262