Behavioral health advocates moved a step closer to watching mental healthcare coverage parity become law, but they’re not quite there yet. Both houses of Congress have passed versions of mental-health parity legislation that would require private insurance plans that offer mental health benefits in their coverage to do so at the same level as medical-surgical benefits. For example, plans could not cover mental-health expenses at 50% and cover medical costs at 75%.
While the Senate voted 93-2 to include the measure as a 10-year, $3.9 billion provision in its Renewable Energy and Job Creation Act of 2008, also called the tax extenders bill, the House passed its version, in a 376-47 vote, as a separate, stand-alone bill. Experts have said it’s unclear what will happen next before a bill can be sent to the White House for the president’s signature.
“They’re going to have to push it back and forth between the two to (reach) agreement,” said Mark Covall, executive director of the National Association of Psychiatric Health Systems, which represents both for-profit and not-for-profit behavioral healthcare providers, including about 300 hospitals. Covall said either the Senate’s tax extenders bill could go to the House, which could make changes and send it back to the Senate, or the House’s free-standing bill—which did not include a specialty hospital provision that had physician ownership proponents worried—could be sent to the Senate.