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Mental Health America Hails Approval of Federal Parity Legislation
Date:10/3/2008

Bill Broadly Outlaws Health Insurance Discrimination; Recognizes Importance of Mental Health to Overall Health

ALEXANDRIA, Va., Oct. 3 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Mental Health America today hailed as "a great civil rights victory" the approval of a mental health parity legislation that will broadly outlaw health insurance discrimination against Americans with mental health and substance-use conditions in employer-sponsored health plans.

The legislation, which recognizes the importance of mental health to overall health, bans employers and insurers from imposing stricter limits on coverage for mental health and substance-use conditions than those set for other health problems. It will provide parity for 82 million Americans covered by self-insured plans and another 31 million in plans that are subject to state regulation.

It is estimated that roughly 67 percent of adults and 80 percent of children requiring mental health services do not receive help, in large part because of discriminatory insurance practices

Mental Health America, which has worked for years to pass mental health parity, applauded Senators Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) and Representatives Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) and Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.), as well as Senate and House leadership key committee chairmen for championing the legislation and their long-standing commitment to ending this civil rights inequity. This victory also owes much to tireless champions such as Rosalyn Carter, David Wellstone and tens of thousands of Americans who have pressed for this historic reform.

"This is a historic day and a great civil rights victory for millions of Americans who have been unable to access mental health treatment," said David Shern, Ph.D., president and CEO of Mental Health America. "With approval of this bill, we will tear down the walls of stigma and discrimination and open the doors to the power and promise of treatment and recovery. It recognizes that mental health disorders are every bit as debilitating, and just as treatable, as cancer and diabetes.

"With economic problems making it even harder for Americans to afford treatment and driving up rates of depression and family difficulties, passage of this law is even more important."

The legislation, called the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, builds on the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the recent approval of Medicare legislation that reduces discriminatory co-payments for mental health services. Dr. Shern said the law's approval should spur further action to improve mental healthcare.

"This law sends a powerful message that we as a nation must address mental health conditions with the same urgency as other health problems," he said. "We must continue to enact policies that embrace that principle."

The legislation applies to group health plans of 51 or more employees. The bill takes the following steps:

-- If a plan offers out-of-network benefits for medical or surgical care, it must also offer out-of-network coverage for mental health and addiction treatment and provide services at parity.

-- Strong state parity and consumer protection laws are preserved while extending parity protection to 82 million more people who are not protected by state laws and 31 million in plans that are subject to state regulation.

State parity laws vary widely from state to state (for a map of state laws, visit http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/go/parity/states).

The legislation also establishes an important oversight mechanism to determine if insurers are discriminating against certain conditions or failing to cover some treatments.

In 2007, Mental Health America helped mount a nationwide tour that galvanized support for mental health parity. Led by Reps. Kennedy and Ramstad, the series of town hall meetings heard testimony from Americans living with mental illnesses, business leaders who have benefited from workplace mental health programs, experts on mental health and addiction, and administrators of programs that bear the huge cost of untreated mental illness.

For fact sheets on the legislation and more information, go to http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net.

Mental Health America is the country's leading nonprofit dedicated to helping ALL people live mentally healthier lives. With our more than 320 affiliates nationwide, we represent a growing movement of Americans who promote mental wellness for the health and well-being of the nation -- everyday and in times of crisis.

CONTACT: Steve Vetzner, office: +1-703-797-2588, cell: +1-202-744-6341, svetzner@mentalhealthamerica.net


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SOURCE Mental Health America
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