Debate Over Mental Health Legislation

The recent US House of Representatives vote in favor of a bill that mandates health insurance parity for patients with mental illnesses has been hailed as historic, but some political observers are predicting a rocky road

“Depression is the inability to construct a future.”—Rollo May, MD

The recent US House of Representatives vote in favor of a bill that mandates healthcare insurance parity for patients with mental illnesses has been hailed as historic, but some political observers are predicting a rocky road ahead. The House version of the legislation differs from its cousin in the US Senate on two key points—the mental disorders that insurers would have to cover and how state laws would interact with federal law.

Like the Senate bill, the House version would bar insurers from imposing higher co-pays or more stringent limits on benefits for mental illness. However, the House bill would require coverage of all mental health and substance abuse disorders listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s manual, including caffeine intoxication and treatment for sleep disorders caused by jet lag. The bill would also allow state governments to pass similar bills that would not have to conform to the federal law, creating a patchwork of regulations for businesses and insurance companies to deal with

Health insurers and business groups, which had expressed support for the Senate bill, have been joined by the Bush administration in opposing the House version, saying that it would drive up health insurance costs. Many Republican senators have also voiced doubts that the Senate and House versions could be reconciled.

156 millionAnnual number of patient cases related to mental health problems.(Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, 2008)