Congress’s $700 billion bailout package unbeknownst to seemingly everyone, or at least me, also contained within it a valuable piece of legislation regarding mental health services that advocates have been fighting for years to pass. The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 was passed into law as part of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act (HR 1424). NPR’s All Things Considered brought this story to my attention.
The law addresses the concept of mental health parity–that mental health issues are insured to the same degree as is what is traditionally considered to be more physical medical problems (we all know that mental health issues are physical illnesses of course). In 1996 Sen. Pete Domenici and Sen. Paul Wellstone struggled to pass a “partial parity” that offered some regulation of the insurance industry, but was filled with loop holes. Another mental health parity bill gained momentum in 2001, but ultimately failed as one of its biggest champions, Wellstone, was killed in a plane accident.
Now it seems, mental health parity has quietly snuck in with the added efforts of both Ted and Patrick Kennedy (who at one time had somewhat opposing bills) and Paul Wellstone’s son, David. This new law will require businesses that employ fifty or more people and that offer health insurance coverage to offer the same extent of coverage for mental health services as all other benefits. This seems to close the major loop hole in the original parity law. Most of these requirements are due to take effect in one year. Sen. Wellstone surely must be smiling somewhere.