The House and Senate recently approved a one-year extension of the Mental Health Parity Act of 1996, which has been extended each year since its expiration in 2002. While this congressional action maintains the protections afforded by the original bill, it falls short of the new, expanded parity legislation called for this year by the American Hospital Association and some 250 other health organizations. In an October letter prompted by Hurricane Katrina, these groups warned Senate and House leadership that loopholes in the 1996 statute, which requires group health plans to fund mental health benefits at the same level as medical and surgical benefits, allow for higher co-payments, deductibles, and co-insurance payments for mental health services. The groups said a mere extension of the law "is no remedy and would further perpetuate the discrimination faced by those with mental health needs." The AHA has long advocated parity for hospital days, outpatient visits, co-pays, deductibles and maximum out-of-pocket costs for in-network services.
[ via AHA News ]