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Mental health parity bill introduced in House


WASHINGTON--Mental health care benefits parity legislation introduced in the House on Wednesday takes a different course than a bill approved last month by a Senate panel, potentially setting the stage for a future battle between the two congressional branches.

Like the bill approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, the House measure, introduced by Reps. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., and Jim Ramstad, R-Minn., would require group health care plans to provide the same cost-sharing requirements for mental health care services as they do for other medical conditions.

The measure, like the Senate HELP bill, would exempt small employers from the parity requirement, as well as employers whose health care costs--as a result of upgrading their coverage of mental health expenses--rose by more than 2% during the first plan year after enactment of the legislation or more than 1% in succeeding years.

But the House measure is different in at least two significant ways. While the Senate bill would pre-empt state laws mandating cost-sharing and treatment parity for mental health care services, the House bill would allow states to set stronger standards.

Additionally, while the Senate bill would leave it to employers to decide on which mental disorders they will cover, the House bill mandates that employer plans would have to provide coverage for the same range of mental disorders and illnesses which are covered by federal health care plans available to members of Congress.

Business groups--who have endorsed the Senate bill, whose chief sponsors are HELP Committee Chairman Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., who is Rep. Kennedy's father, and Rep. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., the panel's ranking minority member--have warned that their support is contingent on no significant changes being made to the Senate bill.