On September 23, the House and Senate each approved Mental Health Parity legislation, but did so via differing legislative vehicles. The House passed H.R. 6983, a stand-alone mental health parity bill, by a solid bipartisan majority: 376-47. The Senate, which saw a previous stand-alone bill go down to defeat at the hands of a Republican filibuster on July 30, overwhelmingly passed (by a 93-2 margin) energy and tax legislation, H.R. 6049, that included identical mental health parity language. Both bills require health plans providing mental health coverage to provide mental health coverage in the same manner as other physical health conditions.
The mental health parity provisions would amend ERISA to require group health plans to administer treatment limitations, beneficiary financial requirements and out-of-network coverage so that mental health benefits are no more restrictive than “substantially all medical and surgical benefits.” The legislation would exempt group health plans of employers with fewer than 50 employees.
Unlike the Senate bill which does not directly offset the costs of the mental health parity provisions, the House bill is paid for by a delay in a tax benefit to multinational corporations. According to the Senate Finance Committee, the parity provisions are expected to cost nearly $4 billion over the next decade. It is unclear whether the House or the Senate will move first towards adopting the other house’s bill in an effort to reconcile the parity provisions.
The Bush administration released a statement expressing support for the Senate energy and tax bill which includes the mental health parity language, H.R. 6049.