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Retailers Welcome Senate Passage of Mental Health Parity Bill, Urge House to Adopt Senate Version at Subcommittee Markup

WASHINGTON, Sept. 19 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The National Retail Federation welcomed last night's Senate passage of mental health parity legislation, and urged a House subcommittee to adopt the Senate's version when the panel considers the legislation at a meeting today.

"The Senate bill is a strong measure that will advance the interests of mental health while balancing the interests of employers," said NRF Vice President and Employee Benefits Policy Counsel Neil Trautwein. "It provides for medical management, employer control, and management of cost and quality. The sponsors of this measure have ended 10 years of gridlock and brought together a previously hostile group of consumers, providers, hospitals, employers and health insurers into a broad coalition. If all of these groups can agree on this measure, the House and Senate should be able to do the same. By contrast, the House bill is a one-sided approach without regard to cost of mental health coverage for either the employers who voluntarily pay for health care benefits or to the employees who accept coverage."

S. 558, the Mental Health Parity Act of 2007, -- sponsored by longtime mental health parity advocate Senator Pete Domenici, R-N.M., with Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Edward Kennedy, D- Mass., and Ranking Member Michael Enzi, R-Wyo., as lead co-sponsors -- passed the full Senate on a voice vote Tuesday night. The Health Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee is scheduled to consider amendments and vote today on H.R. 1424, the Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act of 2007, a competing bill sponsored by Kennedy's son, Representative Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., and co-sponsored by Representative Jim Ramstad, R-Minn.

Both bills would expand a 1996 law intended to see that mental health treatment receives the same insurance coverage as other treatment. But the House bill mandates coverage for a wider range of conditions and requires out- of-network coverage if available for other treatment, in addition to other provisions that fail to protect the medical management of care and allow the state to impose penalties on plans governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

NRF has led the retail industry's efforts toward adoption of a balance mental health parity bill, playing a leading role in negotiations on the Senate bill and testifying this summer before a House Education and Labor Committee subcommittee on the House bill.

The National Retail Federation is the world's largest retail trade association, with membership that comprises all retail formats and channels of distribution including department, specialty, discount, catalog, Internet, independent stores, chain restaurants, drug stores and grocery stores as well as the industry's key trading partners of retail goods and services. NRF represents an industry with more than 1.6 million U.S. retail establishments, more than 24 million employees - about one in five American workers - and 2006 sales of $4.7 trillion. As the industry umbrella group, NRF also represents more than 100 state, national and international retail associations.

SOURCE National Retail Federation
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