The Bailout Bill and Mental Health Parity: What Does It Really Mean?6:32 pm - 10/02/2008
In a quirky procedural twist, the long-sought bill to require mental health insurance coverage in parity with somatic conditions has become intertwined with the contentious legislation to help rescue the nation's financial system.
Essentially, if the financial bailout gets through Congress, so does the bipartisan parity bill. If the financial aid bill fails, Congress will have to figure out another way to make the parity requirement law -- as well as find a way to save the nation's economy.
The Senate took the first step toward parity last night when it passed the financial rescue package 74-25, with presidential candidates Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama voting in favor of the legislation.
"There is renewed hope for millions of Americans facing mental illness," said Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), a longtime champion of mental health parity, in a release from his home in
"The bill now goes to the House of Representatives, and I urge them to act now to end discrimination and prejudice. Millions of Americans are waiting -- and they've waited too long already."
The marriage of the two bills springs in part from the rule that all spending bills must originate from the House. So last night, negotiators picked an earlier mental health parity bill as the container for the financial package.
The House easily passed that mental health parity bill in March. But it was dead on arrival in the Senate because of language that would have required insurance companies to give equal coverage to all mental illnesses outlined in the DSM.
This was a far-reaching stipulation that made some conservatives squeamish, according to Peter Newbould, director of congressional and political affairs for the American Psychological Association's Practice Organization.
Last week, the House passed a standalone mental health parity bill and then the Senate rolled its version into the tax break extenders bill before voting to approve it. (See: True Coverage Parity for Mental Health Services Close to Reality)
Now comes the tricky part. The mental health parity language from that March bill will be entirely stripped out by the Senate. Into the empty shell will go the financial rescue plan, and the tax break extenders bill that includes mental health parity legislation passed by the Senate last week. This removes any mention of the DSM.
Instead of the two chambers going to conference to work out the differences between the two versions of the parity bill, the legislation, if the entire package is passed, can go straight to the president for approval.
So the parity bill is hostage to the financial aid bill, with everything now riding on House approval.
"By this rather dramatic move last night of the negotiators marrying the several issues left in the Congress to deal with, we're going to win," said Newbould. "We're going to be part of this Wall Street mainstream rescue package that includes the tax extenders and it's a welcome development."
"I have no doubt that we're going to ride into the Rose Garden on this bill," said Newbould.
If you want to see for yourself, you can go to page 310 of the actual bill.
If you can see past the smoke and mirrors (because I certainly can't), feel free to disagree with me about the "parity" of this "mental health parity" rider.