Mental Health and Addiction Parity Finally a Reality

As you probably know by now, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 263-171 to approve the Wall Street bailout bill on Friday, a few days after the Senate approved the new bailout measure 74-25. President George Bush swiftly signed the bill into law. Attached to the bill was the mental health/addiction parity bill sponsored in the House by Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) and Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.). The Senate parity bill was sponsored by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.). A previous bill, rejected by the House, that also called for a $700-billion bailout of the financial system did not include the parity provision.

The parity bill is now known as the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008. Many addiction and mental health advocacy groups worked hard to educate people and legislators about the bill and build grassroots support to ultimately pass it.

So what will this parity bill mean to all of us? According to Rep. Kennedy, “This legislation is one more step in the long civil-rights struggle to ensure that all Americans have the opportunity to reach their potential. For far too long, health insurance companies have used the stigma of mental illness and substance abuse as an excuse to deny coverage for those biological disorders. That ends today when this critical legislation outlaws the discrimination that is embedded in our laws and our policies.” Sen. Domenici commented, “No longer will we allow mental health to be treated as a stepchild in the healthcare system.”

While the parity bill does not require health insurance plans to cover addiction or mental health, insurers will now be barred from imposing any caps or limits on behavioral healthcare service that are not applied to other health conditions. Essentially, addiction and mental health benefits will be treated the same as any medical or surgical benefit.

Read more about the passing of the parity bill and the long road to get there on
Congress, Bush Approve Addiction and Mental Health Parity Legislation

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