09.23.08

DOMENICI, KENNEDY, ENZI & DODD CELEBRATE SENATE PASSAGE OF MENTAL HEALTH PARITY IN TAX PACKAGE

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), Edward M. Kennedy(D-Mass.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) today celebrated Senateapproval of a broad bipartisan mental health parity agreement and expressed theirconfidence the Congress would enact the legislation before the impending end of the110th Congress.

The Senate today approved the mental health parity legislation as part of theRenewable Energy and Job Creation Act of 2008 (HR.6049), the so-called Senatecompromise tax extenders legislation. Domenici, Kennedy, Enzi and Dodd have made it a priority in the 110th Congressto enact new mental health parity legislation. The provisions in HR.6049 represent amuch-anticipated update to the landmark 1996 Mental Health Parity Act authored byDomenici and the late Senator Paul Wellstone. The new legislation is expected toimprove mental health care coverage for an estimated 113 million Americans.

“We are on the cusp of enacting legislation that is critically important to thosewith mental illness and their families. We have a finite amount of time to get thisthrough Congress and we are anxious to see get it done. Thousands of hours have beenput into coming up with a good bipartisan bill that will at long last place insurancecoverage for mental health care on par with medical and surgical coverage,” Domenici said.

“It is wrong to rob people of their potential and deny their hopes and dreamsbecause their insurance will not pay for the mental health care they need. Today, afterten years of stalemate, the United States Senate passed our legislation to requireinsurance companies to cover mental illnesses and physical illnesses equally. This is acivil rights issue. With passage of this bill, fundamental justice arrives for millions of ourfellow Americans who deal with mental illness. Today, the United States Senate says tothem loud and clear, you will no longer have to suffer in the shadows,” said Kennedy.“We have worked for 10 long years to reach this moment. We remember the work of thelate Senator Paul Wellstone. This would not be possible without his leadership or that ofSenator Pete Domenici, Congressman Jim Ramstad and Congressman Patrick Kennedy,of whom I am enormously proud.”

“Passing this mental health parity legislation offers new hope to millions ofAmericans with mental illness and their families. This bill unites the mental healthadvocacy, health care provider, employer, and insurance communities to bring fairnessand relief to individuals and families who need help. The bill is years, if not decades, inthe making, and reflects countless hours of sweat and negotiation. I want to thankSenator Domenici, Senator Kennedy, and Senator Dodd for their invaluable leadership tobring an end to the legislative paralysis on this important issue,” Enzi said. “For more than ten years, Senators Kennedy, Domenici, Enzi and I have beenworking to make fair treatment for those with mental illness not just a right but a reality.It has been a long and difficult road, but today, I am happy to say that we are taking agiant leap toward the finish line,” said Dodd.

“Today’s victory for the millions of Americans who live with mental illness is a tribute to the late Senator Paul Wellstone,who fought day and night to achieve parity for mental health and substance abuse. I hopethe House of Representatives will act quickly to approve this bill so we can send a strongmental health parity bill to the President’s desk.”

The $150 billion tax extenders bill, which also includes such provisions as analternative minimum tax fix and renewable energy tax credits, now requires approvalfrom the House of Representatives before it can be forwarded to the White House. TheBush administration on Tuesday issued a statement in support for HR.6049, including themental health parity provisions. Domenici, Kennedy and Enzi authored the Mental Health Parity Act of 2007(S.558), which was passed in the Senate by unanimous consent in September 2007. That bill had 57 cosponsors, including Dodd who has been instrumental in moving the paritylegislation forward.

The lawmakers reached a subsequent agreement with parityadvocates in the House of Representatives and have since worked to find suitable offsetsto pay for the legislation. The new Mental Health Parity Act would require health insurance plans that offermental health coverage to provide the same financial and treatment coverage offered forother physical illnesses. The legislation developed in talks with mental health, insuranceand business organizations to craft compromise legislation. It does not mandate thatgroup plans must provide any mental health coverage.

The 1996 parity law, authored by Domenici and Paul Wellstone, only providedparity for annual and lifetime limits between mental health coverage and medical surgicalcoverage. The new parity legislation expands parity by including deductibles, co-payments,out-of-pocket expenses, coinsurance, covered hospital days, and covered out-patientvisits. The measure also includes a small business exemption for companies with fewerthan 50 employees, as well as a cost exemption for all businesses.

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Press Contact

CHRIS GALLEGOS/Domenici (202) 224-7082 ANTHONY COLEY/Kennedy (202) 224-2633 CRAIG ORFIELD/Enzi (202) 224-6770 BRYAN DeANGELIS/Dodd (202) 224-5372