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United States Congress moves closer to passing mental health parity

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D. Updated: Sep 24th 2008

scales of justiceThis just in from the National Counsil for Community Behavioral Healthcare (NCCBH) , a professional group representing community mental health within the United States.  Movement has occurred within the congress towards the ultimate passage of a federal mental health and addictions parity bill which would force health insurers in the United States to cover and pay for mental illness and addictions in the same manner they cover other chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease.  At present the situation is pretty much that the average insurer offers only token mental health coverage in comparison with how illnesses like heart disease are reimbursed.  They do this because as for-profit companies, it is expedient and cheaper for them to do so.  No one is forcing them not to.  

Of course, this legislation is not yet law.  However, the effort to make parity part of law has just passed another road block.

The text of the press release follows: 

House, Senate Pass Historic Mental Health and Addictions Parity Legislation

On September 23, both the House and Senate passed legislation to extend parity to both mental health and addictions. The National Council thanks all members who called their members of Congress in support of this historic legislation!

The Senate passed the parity compromise reached by House and Senate negotiators as part of a package (HR 6049) that would extend expiring tax breaks. After voting 83 to 12 to waive a Budget Act point of order and pass an amendment offered by Senators Max Baucus (D-MT) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) to combine the parity compromise with the tax extenders bill, the Senate passed the combined legislation by a vote of 93 to 2. To see how your Senators voted, click here.

The House passed the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 HR 6983) by a vote of 376 to 47. To see how your Representative voted, click here.

"This bipartisan bill is an important and necessary measure to ensure that the roughly 54 million Americans who suffer from mental illness are not subjected to higher costs or treatment limitations,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) in a statement yesterday. “I commend Congressmen Kennedy and Ramstad for their tireless commitment to this legislation. Our action today is also in tribute to the legacy of Senator Paul Wellstone and the work of all those who have advocated on behalf of mental health parity.

Last week, the National Council, in coalition with the Ad Hoc Coalition on Mental Health Parity, the Coalition for Fairness in Mental Illness Coverage, Mental Health Liaison Group, and Parity Now Coalition, ran ads in support of parity in CongressDaily AM. To see a copy of the ad, click here

Because the House and Senate bills to passed the parity compromise in different forms, additional voting will be necessary. Look for updates on this important legislation in future editions of the National Council’s Public Policy Update.

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D. was Director of Mental Help Net from 1999 to 2011. Presently, he is an Oakland Psychologist (Lic#PSY25695) in private practice offering evidence-based acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and addressing a range of life problems. Contact Dr. Dombeck by calling 510-900-5123, send Dr. Dombeck email or visit Dr. Dombeck's practice website for more information.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Mental Health Parity - JR - Sep 25th 2008

Seems like a positive development in general.  It may be of interest to US readers that in my part of the world (Ireland), where health insurance suppliers have tended to extend quite a high level of cover to mental health treatment in general, there is some talk of cutting back on cover for addiction treatment specifically.  I have mixed feelings about this.  On the one hand, my experience of detox and rehab in a private hospital may only have been a first step, but I have no doubt that it helped me to break a very destructive pattern of thinking and behavior, and for that I am very grateful.  On the other hand, where even my own hospital admits to a 90 per cent "failure" rate in its alcoholism treatment (encompassing group aftercare and "encouraged" AA membership), and seems to regard serial readmissions as an ongoing fact of alcoholic life, the stupendous cost to the insured population in general must raise the question of whether continuing to support this apparently ineffective form of treatment at the present high level is really a good idea.

Of course, clear, open debate on this matter is probably too much to expect, if only because this could easily spill over into a conversation as to why the treatment appears so ineffective when compared, for example, with treatment for broken limbs or cancer.  This would involve giving air to the realities of the dominant 12 Step approach adopted by the addiction treatment sector here.  Since few in the population have even heard of notions like "spiritual" diseases and "spiritual" recovery, the eye-opener of an up-front debate on the subject might upset the cosy, settled practice of a treatment industry that, in its present configuration, seems to have little else to offer, even if it were interested in doing so.

I imagine that some people in the US have similar reservations about pumping even more money into addiction services as currenly configured, but I have not noticed very much debate about it there, either, except perhaps in some of the more predictable areas of the Internet.  But perhaps I am just a bit too far away to see.

Best regards,


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