Washington – The House of Representatives passed the Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act of 2007.

The legislation, H.R. 1424, was sponsored jointly by Reps. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., and Jim Ramstad, R-Minn., and would mandate greater access to mental health and addiction treatment if enacted. The legislation, which has to be reconciled with a more modest Senate version of the legislation, passed by a vote of 268 to148.

“Today is a great day for the millions of Americans whose lives are impacted by mental illness and substance abuse,” says Kennedy. “It is my hope that the passage of this bill will help to erase the stigma associated with mental illness and substance abuse, a stigma that has prevented far too many Americans from seeking out the treatment they need.”

The bill amends ERISA, the Public Health Services Act and the Internal Revenue Code to eliminate discriminatory provisions that erect obstacles to accessing care for Americans with mental health and addiction disorders. While the 1996 Mental Health Parity Act required equality only for annual and lifetime limits, H.R. 1424 requires equality across the terms of the health plan.

Specifically, the legislation requires health plans to ensure that any financial requirements applied to mental health and addiction benefits are no more restrictive or costly than the financial requirements applied to substantially all comparable medical and surgical benefits that the plan covers. The categories for comparison are inpatient and outpatient, in-network and out-of-network. Also, the legislation would require that the treatment limitations applied to such benefits are no more restrictive than the treatment limitations applied to substantially all comparable medical and surgical benefits the plan covers. Such treatment limitations include limits on the frequency of treatment, number of visits, days of coverage, or other similar limits on the scope and duration of treatment.

Named after the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, H.R. 1424 aims to realize the late senator’s vision to establish equality in terms of mental health and addiction health coverage. “We’ve waited 12 long years for this historic day,” says Ramstad. “I am grateful that the House has taken this important step to end the discrimination against people who need treatment for mental illness and chemical addiction.”

Not everyone is pleased about H.R. 1424. In a letter from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the Bush Administration expressed its opposition to the legislation, saying it “would effectively mandate coverage of a broad range of diseases and conditions, and would have a negative effect on the accessibility and affordability of employer-provided health benefits and would undermine the uniform administration of employee benefit plans.”

Sources: House.gov, OMB

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