Mental Health Insurance Parity Update

Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Senators who want insurance companies to cover mental
the same as physical illness said Wednesday they would settle for less than
full equality, but won't give up their fight. Led by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete Domenici, R-N.M., mental health advocates are pushing for a compromise that would prohibit insurers from cutting off payments for mental illness treatment at a lower dollar
amount than other sickness. But the compromise would allow insurance companies to have higher
co-payments and deductibles for mental illness to make up for the added
expense, said Domenici.

The senators want the provision included on the health insurance bill
that's now in final stages of negotiations in Congress. The main purpose of
the bill is to assure workers who lose or change jobs continued access to
health insurance even if they have a pre-existing health problem.
Insurance policies typically do not have as far-reaching coverage for
mental illness as for physical disease.

Health insurance payments might be cut off completely after $25,000 for
schizophrenia treatment, for example. But the same insurer would pay up to
$1 million if the patient had cancer. Annual caps on mental illness are now as low as $2,500, said the National Mental Health Association. "This discrimination has to stop," said Domenici, whose daughter suffers from a mental illness. Domenici was joined at a news conference by Sens. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., whose niece killed herself after suffering many years with schizophrenia,
and Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., whose brother battled mental illness in the past.

House and Senate Republicans announced earlier in the week that they'd
reached a compromise on medical savings accounts, a provision demanded by
the House that was holding up the bill. But the GOP negotiators dropped the original mental health provision for full parity that the Senate had put in the bill, replacing it with an agreement to form a commission to study the problem. Wellstone, Domenici and Simpson said the issue had been studied enough. They said they would continue to pressure House leaders to include a
mental health provision.