02.12.07

DOMENICI, KENNEDY & ENZI UNVEIL LONG-AWAITED BREAKTHROUGH ON MENTAL HEALTH PARITY Legislation Will Build on Landmark 1996 Parity Law

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), Edward Kennedy (D- Mass.) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) today introduced breakthrough mental health legislation to ensure greater health insurance parity for persons with mental illness. The Mental Health Parity Act of 2007 represents the culmination of more than a year’s negotiations involving lawmakers, mental health, insurance and business organizations to craft compromise legislation. The new policy would build on the landmark 1996 Mental Health Parity Act, a law authored by Domenici and the late Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone that began the process of ending health insurance discrimination against people with mental illness. The bill does not mandate group plans to provide any mental health coverage, but it does require health insurance plans that offer mental health coverage to provide that coverage on par with financial and treatment coverage offered for other physical illnesses. “We are here today after years of hard work,” Domenici said. “Simply put, our bill will provide parity between mental health coverage and medical and surgical coverage. No longer will a more restrictive standard be applied the mental health coverage and another more lenient standard be applied to medical and surgical coverage. This is a matter of fairness and I am genuinely excited that we may finally make progress to build on the 1996 law and offering this much-needed help to those with mentally ill and those whose care for them.” “One in five Americans will suffer from mental illness this year. But unlike in the past, we know today that mental illnesses are treatable – more treatable than many physical illnesses. Yet, only one third of those facing mental illnesses will receive treatment,” Kennedy said. “The bill we introduce today will begin to right these wrongs. It represents an agreement, after seven long years of stalemate, not only between Democrats and Republicans, but also with the mental health community, businesses and the insurance industry. And it provides new hope to millions of our fellow citizens.” “This carefully crafted, balanced compromise bill could only be reached by bringing together employer, insurance and mental health communities and asking them to set aside partisanship and find a common ground. By bringing everyone to the table to air concerns and determine areas of agreement, we have finally overcome years of legislative paralysis to make progress for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness,” Enzi said. Domenici is a long-time mental health advocate, while Kennedy and Enzi are chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that has jurisdiction over this issue. The HELP Committee is scheduled to take up the bill Wednesday. The legislation would provide mental health parity for about 113 million Americans who work for employers with 50 or more employees. It will ensure that health plans do not place more restrictive conditions on mental health coverage than on medical or surgical coverage. As such it would require: · Parity for financial requirements like deductibles, co-payments, and annual and lifetime limits; and,· Parity for treatment limitations such as the number of covered hospital days and visits. The 1996 Mental Health Parity law only provided parity for annual and lifetime limits between mental health coverage and medical surgical coverage. The new bill expands parity by including deductibles, co-payments, out-of-pocket expenses, coinsurance, covered hospital days, and covered out-patient visits.The measure does include a small business exemption for companies with fewer than 50 employees, and also includes a cost exemption for all businesses. The 1996 law began the parity process, and helped raise greater public awareness to the plight of those with mental illnesses and the societal stigma often associated with those illnesses. Today, about 26 percent of American adults, or nearly 58 million people, suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder each year. Six percent of these adults suffer from a serious mental illness. Mental illness is also closely linked to the more than 30,000 suicides in the United States every year. In addition, an estimated 16 percent of all inmates in state and local jails suffer from a mental illness. ####

Press Contact

(Enzi) Craig Orfield: 202-224-6770 (Domenici) Chris Gallegos (202) 224-7082 (Kennedy) Laura Capps: 202-224-2633