Mental Health Parity Bill Finally Passes Senate
> 9/19/2007 1:48:31 PM

Senator Paul Wellstone died in a plane-crash in 2002, but his legacy survived and won a long-awaited victory for mental health advocates yesterday. The Senate unanimously passed the Mental Health Parity bill, and the House appears to have a large majority in favor of a similar bill. This final step was made possible by over a decade of hard work and negotiation.

We have pointed out the inadequacies of the 1996 Mental Health Parity Act. While Congress had noble intentions to require insurance companies to give equal benefits for physical and mental illness, the MHPA had more holes than an acupuncture patient. The American Psychological Association reports that while most employers technically comply with the 1996 Act, 87% find ways to get around the spirit of the law with clever tactics like capping the number of therapy sessions allowed each year. The statistic 87% is important to remember, because it is also the percentage of Americans who say that the reason that they do not seek help for their mental problems is that they lack adequate insurance.

The 1996 Act was supposed to be a temporary, five-year band-aid, but it was extended again and again. Senator Wellstone championed the Mental Health Equitable Treatment Act in 2001, but it languished do to detail difficulties and opposition from big business. Realizing that covering mental illness was both fair and economically rational, the majority of states moved ahead with their own parity legislation.

We recently discussed a WHO study showing that depression is under-treated and that it takes more of a physical toll on sufferers than many other devastating chronic illnesses. This knowledge, in conjunction with a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers that mental health parity would only cost businesses $1.32 more per employee, makes businesses much less opposed to boosting mental health care coverage.  

The bill passed yesterday tells American citizens that their country is ready to treat all illness with the same compassion, whether that illness be physical or mental. The pernicious idea that something like cancer is a sickness but that a disorder like depression is a weakness still lingers, but lawmakers have now acted to ensure that that ill conceived notion will not affect coverage for care.

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