Advocates applaud mental-health bill

Feb. 13, 2007 at 12:46 PM
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 13 (UPI) -- Advocates applauded a Senate bill that would require U.S. health insurers to cover mental and physical illness equally.

The Mental Health Parity Act of 2007 was introduced this week by Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Republicans Pete Domenici of New Mexico and Michael Enzi of Wyoming.

The bill would revise the current system in which many health-insurance plans impose benefit limits or higher cost-sharing on beneficiaries seeking mental-health services.

"Having a mental health disorder can be as serious as having a heart attack or any other debilitating, life-threatening physical health disorder," said Russ Newman, executive director of professional practice at the American Psychological Association.

"Health care coverage in this country needs to catch up with what people increasingly understand. ... The mind and body are linked inextricably."

The proposed legislation would shore up a similar act passed in 1996 by requiring co-payments for office visits, deductibles, limits on number of visits, out-of-network and in-network services for psychological services be treated the same as physical health services.

The bill also includes coverage for substance abuse and chemical-dependency services -- something many patients have had difficulty accessing.

"This bill closes longstanding gaps in law that limit people's access to needed mental health care," said Pamela Greenberg, chair of the Fairness Coalition and president and chief executive officer of the Association for Behavioral Health and Wellness.

"Introduced after many years of advocacy, the bill would bar all discriminatory financial requirements and treatment limitations for both mental health and substance use disorders."

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