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Kennedy, Ramstad Announce Historic Passage of Paul Wellstone Mental Health Parity Bill

WASHINGTON, March 5, 2008 – Today, Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy (D-RI) announced that the House of Representatives passed the Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act of 2007. This historic legislation, sponsored jointly by Kennedy and Congressman Jim Ramstad (R-MN), would improve the overall health of all Americans by granting greater access to mental health and addiction treatment and prohibiting health insurers from placing discriminatory restrictions on treatment.  The legislation was cosponsored by 274 Members of Congress and passed with a strong bipartisan vote of 268 to148.   


“Today is a great day for the millions of Americans whose lives are impacted by mental illness and substance abuse,” said Representative 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 which has prevented far too many Americans from seeking out the treatment they need.”


“We’ve waited 12 long years for this historic day,” said Representative 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.”


“There is no shame in mental illness.  The great shame would be if Congress had not taken action to ensure that individuals with mental health illnesses and addictions are given the attention, treatment, and resources they need to live a healthy life,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.  “Today, we have taken a great step forward, and I salute Congressmen Kennedy and Ramstad for their unflagging leadership on this issue.”


Named after the late Senator 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.


H.R. 1424 received wide bipartisan support with 274 cosponsors of the bill.  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.  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, such as:


            - The plan or coverage must 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.


            - The plan or coverage must also ensure 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 that 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.  


            - The plan or coverage must cover the mental illnesses and addiction disorders   included in the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which is the same standard of the federal employee health plan that Members of Congress use.


“I am honored to have worked with my colleague and friend Jim Ramstad to reach this important milestone.  I cannot imagine a better way to honor his Congressional career than by ensuring that this legislation reaches the President’s desk by the end of the year,” added Kennedy.


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Posted: March 2008