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Mental health parity extension bill introduced


WASHINGTON--A soon-to-expire federal law requiring employers to offer limited parity for mental health care expenses in their health care plans would be extended for one more year as part of a broad tax bill introduced Wednesday by the two top members of the Senate Finance Committee.

The bill extends through Dec. 31, 2007, a 1996 law that bans health care plans from offering lower annual and lifetime dollar limits on coverage for mental health conditions than for other medical conditions.

The 1996 law, which Congress has renewed several times previously, is currently set to expire on Dec. 31, 2006.

While the 1996 law bans discriminatory annual and lifetime dollar limits on mental health care benefits, it allows employers to discriminate in other ways. For example, employers can require higher copayments and deductibles for mental health care services than for other medical services.

The broader bill, introduced by Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and ranking minority member Max Baucus, D-Mont., also includes numerous provisions to extend other expiring laws.

The Senate could act on the measure as soon as Thursday, while House action also is expected before legislators conclude the current congressional session this weekend.