House leaders on Sept. 19 told mental health lobbyists that mental health parity legislation will be taken up as a stand-alone bill this week under suspension of the rules, a procedure that prohibits amendments and requires a two-thirds majority for the bill to pass, CongressDaily reports. Lawmakers reached an agreement in July that would combine the House and Senate mental health parity bills by removing a House mandate on coverage of specific mental health conditions in favor of one that would require that mental health benefits be equal to physical health benefits.
No funding mechanism was included in the agreement. The $3.4 billion House measure will be offset by taxes and restrictions imposed on physician-owned hospitals, according to lobbyists.
The restrictions, taken from a Senate bill passed earlier this year, are less strict than those originally passed by the House. House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee Chair Pete Stark (D-Calif.) warned that the restrictions could become harsher if negotiations on the bill continue into next year.
A House leadership aide said, "Since it is unclear what the Senate is going to send up with respect to their tax package, we are keeping our options open as we head into next week." The Senate last week said it would include the parity bill in a tax extenders bill (S 3001), although the package "faces hurdles in the House" because portions of it do not have funding offsets.
Andrew Sperling, a lobbyist with the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said, "We have to be respectful of the fact that the House has its rules," adding, "No one is questioning the commitment of leadership to get mental health parity done." Senate Banking Committee Chair Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) on Sept. 18 said the Senate has decided to name its parity bill the "Wellstone-Domenici bill," after Sens. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.), who died in 2002, and Pete Domenici (R-N.M.). The senators "championed" the first parity bill, passed in 1996, CongressDaily reports (CongressDaily, 9/18).