House Passes Bill on Mental Health Coverage-Senate Next to Vote
By Gerri Elder
On March 5, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would make up new ground in the ongoing push to reform health care in America.
Over the past year or so, the government at both the federal and the state levels has been pushing for more expanded health insurance coverage: in President Bush's administration, the Medicare Prescription Drug bill was signed into law, allowing coverage of prescription drugs under Medicare's provisions. Also, in late 2007, Congress debated over increasing numbers of children involved in SCHIP (State Children's Healthcare Insurance Program).
The new bill, now being considered by the Senate, would require health insurance providers to cover mental health problems in exactly the same way that they currently cover physical health problems and illnesses. However, it would not provide a mandate, meaning that health insurers could potentially drop clients rather than provide the coverage the bill stipulates.
Currently, around 25 states have mandates on including mental health coverage, covering issues such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, clinical depression and eating disorders, among other things. The new bill would also add less common but no less debilitating mental illnesses and disorders like kleptomania, sibling-relational problems, voyeurism and exhibitionism, according to a San Francisco Chronicle article.
Some states, like those of the 25 who currently cover mental health as part of their state coverage, see the new bill as a potential threat to their current system. In California, for example, where many of the less common illnesses are not covered in the state's list of nine "serious conditions," mandates for more coverage in an already progressive system would potentially "drive up costs," according to insurance providers.
Yet proponents of the bill, named the Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act after deceased Minnesota senator and champion of mental health coverage Paul Wellstone, argue that any health care system that doesn't address issues such as substance addiction in a preventive way but only when the problem becomes acute is a system doomed to failure.
However, the bill also contains an important provision related to genetics and health insurance, and would prohibit health insurance companies from using genetic predispositions from denying coverage to policyholders.
A competing bill sponsored by Senator Edward Kennedy, D-Mass, is being considered right now, though as usual it faces likely opposition from the Bush Administration, whose Office of Management and Budget released a letter saying that any mandates on mental health issues would increase costs.