What's up with Mental Health Parity law?

The Eating Disorders Coalition is the go-to resource for news and action on US national legislative action relating to eating disorders and mental health. When they say jump, it is our job to act.

The mental health and addiction parity compromise bill that was agreed to by House and Senate negotiators is included in the Jobs, Energy, Families and Disaster Relief Act of 2008 (S. 3335), which is expected to be considered on the Senate floor the week of July 28th. In June, the Senate failed to invoke
cloture on a tax extenders package by 7 votes.

To keep that from happening again, we need to engage a swift and decisive grassroots campaign. It is essential the Senate pass this package before the August recess so that parity legislation can also pass the House and be signed into law by the President before Congress adjourns for the year in September.

ACTION: Have your advocates call their U.S. Senators by
using the toll-free Parity Hotline: 1-866-parity4 (1-866-727-4894). (The Parity Hotline reaches the U.S. Capitol switchboard, which can connect callers to the offices of their members.)

MESSAGE: “I’m calling to ask that the Senator vote for the Jobs, Energy, Families and Disaster Relief Act of 2008 (S. 3335). The Senate must pass lifesaving mental health and addiction parity legislation included in the bill before the August recess."

TARGETS: All members of the Senate.

To find your Senator's contact info
To see how Senators voted on the June tax extenders vote

To learn more about the EDC


  1. So, is this ongoing right now, beginning this past Monday until it is either resolved by a vote one way or another ... until the summer recess?

    A note ... Medicare already offers parity, but in doing so means these extremely long hospital admissions use up your lifetime maximum days/outpay for *any* reason ... for the rest of your life, even if you don't remain disabled and later return to Medicare coverage as a senior (this is applicable, obviously, moreso for adults or college students emancipated).

    "Psych" benefits, which are generous under Medicare, are essentially wasted. The current version of parity the government programs are following in states where parity laws exist also now limits treatment to hospital-based treatment programs, because they are "medical" days and require facility accreditation as such (even if the unit is officially a "psych" floor and "psych" admission by a psychiatrist). So, the residential places frequently cited as favored by patients and families aren't covered.

    The plus is that care is covered 100 percent (minus an inpatient deductible of $900-some) vs. 20-50 percent or more co-pays, which add up quickly with an ED stay. Professional services/rounds also are covered at parity (and without requiring certification) vs. 50 percent + separate "mental health" deductible and limited by a number of visits.

    I would guess that so-goes-the-government ... so, too, private insurers?

  2. Our local newspaper explained that mental parity is still optional -- but that if coverage was offered, it had to be at the same levels as similar medical coverage. Is that true?

    Also, I hate that they combine bills. Why can't things pass on their own merits!

  3. Here is a list of all the crap that they've thrown in with this act: http://finance.senate.gov/sitepages/leg/leg072408S.3335.pdf

    Here are some low points:

    7-Year Recovery Period for Certain Motorsports Racetrack Property.

    Excise Tax Exemption for Wooden Practice Arrows Used by Children.

    I'm so tired of earmarks! Especially when they jeopardize legitimate bills.

  4. Did you hear? It got scuttled because Republicans wouldn't look at the bill unless it included provisions for OFFSHORE DRILLING!

    Could we maybe throw *them* off shore, and get some drills?

    Augh. I agree, Wendy. This is ridiculous how it got chucked in with whatever was available.

  5. Wendy,

    Sorry- forgot to respond to the first question you had!

    Yes. What mental health parity means is that you have to treat mental illness as if it were a physical illness. So if you have a $5 million lifetime cap for physical illness (organ transplant, etc), then it has to be the same for mental illness. Some people had argued against MH parity because it would cause insurance companies to cut back on medical coverage, but long term economic studies have shown that it will only add less than 1% to costs to cover mental health.

  6. My understanding of this federal parity bill is that it would not require medical insurance to include mental health benefits, only that if mental health benefits were given, they had to be at parity with "medical" benefits. Consequently, there's a concern that some employers would not offer mental health coverage at all, or would reduce medical benefits in order to keep mental health coverage low. Constrast this with the existing parity law in California, where ALL medical plans MUST include coverage for "severe mental illnesses" including, among other conditions, anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. And the coverages must be at parity with coverage for "medical" conditions. In the California law, which was enacted in 1999, the state Legislature specifically stated that mental illness is "real," "reliably diagnosed," and "treatable," and that "Inadequate treatment causes relapse and untold suffering for individuals with mental illness and their families." The California Legislature also stated that "other states that have adopted mental illness parity legislation have experienced minimal additional costs if medically necessary services were managed." While the shenanigans of Congress in this instance are distressing, the fact that the California Legislature took this courageous step forward for parity nine years ago should give us hope for the future at the national level.


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