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January 2002
NEW BILL IN CONGRESS TO IMPROVE MENTAL HEALTH COVERAGE
By Joyce Parker, Ph.D.

Summarized from an article in the December 2001 edition of Psychology Today

A bill known as The Mental Health Equitable Treatment Act is being considered in congress. This bill would compel insurance companies to provide the same coverage for mental disorders, with the exception of substance abuse, that they do for physical illness. There is already legislation called the Mental Health Parity Act, passed in 1996, which requires insurance companies to pay equitably for certain severe mental illnesses specified in that legislation. However some insurers quickly found loopholes which allowed them to reduce mental health coverage to only those severe mental illnesses specified in the legislation. This left many individuals with less severe diagnoses without mental health coverage. The bill co-sponsors, Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota and Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico believe that this is civil rights legislation. Wellstone is optimistic about the chances for passage even though there is opposition from managed-care companies. These groups threaten that the bill will drive up the cost of insurance. However most research shows that health care premiums will rise by about 1 percent.

The cost of mental disorders that go untreated if very high. Americans lose more than $150 billion each year in costs related to treatment, disability payments and lost productivity related to mental illness. There are also studies that indicate when third party payers limit the number of days they reimburse for inpatient mental health care; there is a greater recidivism rate. Wellstone believes that employee demand for mental health coverage would prevent most companies from dropping it altogether. If this coverage were passed, copays for mental health treatment would be the same as copays for health care and limits of dollars for each would be equivalent.

The author of this article, and founder of the Therapyinla.com website, Joyce Parker, passed away in 2011. To honor her we are keeping her articles posted at this website.


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