Health parity law a father-son negotiation

Congressional negotiations over a bill aimed at boosting mental health and addition insurance coverage will be a family affair. 

Yesterday the House passed a bill that would require equal health insurance coverage for mental and physical illnesses on policies that cover both.

The “Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act of 2007,” H.R. 1424, passed by a 268-148 roll call vote yesterday. Supporters of the measure, sponsored by Reps. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I. and Jim Ramstad, R-Minn., cheered its passage, stressing that the law would lead to increased access to treatment for mental health and addition issues while helping to end the stigma attached to them.

“It’s about opening up the doors and ending the shadow of discrimination against the mentally ill,” said Kennedy as he stood with a number of supporters, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, yesterday during a rally celebrating the bill’s passage.

But opponents of the measure, including business and insurance industry groups, warned that it would lead to increased premiums, and cause more employers to drop health care coverage altogether.

In a statement, Karen Ignagni, President and CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans, said that while parity is important, the House version of the bill was too inflexible.

“Health insurance plans support the bipartisan mental health parity legislation (S. 558) that passed the Senate by unanimous consent because it is a balanced approach that would preserve access to health plans’ medical management and quality improvement programs,” she said.

“Unfortunately, the House legislation would turn back the clock on advances in the quality of care and impose excessive costs on patients and employers. Though well-intentioned, this legislation would undermine the progress that has been achieved in improving behavioral health benefits through coordinated-care strategies.”

That Senate bill was co-sponsored by Rep. Kennedy’s father, Sen. Edward Kennedy. Rep Kennedy said he would work with is father to come to a compromise on the legislation.

The elder Kennedy cheered the House bill’s passage, focusing more on what the measures had in common than their differences. “Today’s vote in the House of Representatives is a bold step toward ending discrimination for millions of Americans whose health insurance does not cover mental illness,” Sen. Kennedy said. “I look forward to working with my colleagues in the House and Senate to negotiate the final legislation and have it signed into law this year.”
The White House has expressed support for the Senate version of the bill.


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