Negotiations over a law for mental health insurance parity appear to be ending, according to a mid-day report from CQ Politics. This ends a 15-year drive to end discrimination, and caps the careers of two of its congressional sponsors.
A sticking point was allegedly resolved when Reps. Patrick Kennedy and Jim Ramstad (who is retiring from Congress), dropped requirements making diagnosis for psychiatric and substance abuse disorders depend on the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. The Senate's bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Pete Dominici (R-NM), (also retiring), and Sen Edward Kennedy -- Patrick's father -- uses managed-care principles of approving treatments. Part of the compromise creates government reviews to determine whether insurance companies are discriminating against claimants. Business and insurance groups, and the White House, favored the Senate version making it more likely that President Bush will not veto this measure.
The compromise paves the way for a vote. Until Democrats controlled the House, Ramstad had difficulty getting a bill onto the floor. Last year debate accelerated, and Patrick Kennedy and joined him to carry congressional hearings nationwide, telling their respective stories of recovery from alcohol abuse, hearing those of people who described tens-of-thousands of dollars insurance paid for cancer surgery while denying coverage for psychotherapy. Kennedy also disclosed his history of bi-polar disorder.
Businesses with 50 or more employees will be required to provide the same benefits for mental health treatments that they do for physical health. Roughly 113 million people will be affected.
This makes 2008 the year of parity. Earlier in the week, a Senate vote on Medicare reduced the rates of mental health co-payments from 50 percent to 20 percent, establishing parity with physical health and ending four decades of discrimination.