Mental-health parity law a big win for Kennedys
Tucked into the Wall Street bailout bill was a breakthrough for the estimated 113 million Americans suffering from mental illness - a provision making it illegal for health insurance companies to discriminate against patients suffering from psychological or behavioral disorders.
Adoption of the measure, hailed by a leading mental health advocacy group as a "great civil rights victory," marks the end of a decade-long struggle led by Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and his son, Representative Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island, to ensure parity for mental illnesses in the eyes of the American healthcare system.
"The miracles of modern medicine make mental illness just as treatable today as physical illnesses," Kennedy, who is being treated for brain cancer, said in a statement. "After 10 years of debate, Congress has finally agreed to end discrimination in health insurance coverage that plagues persons living with mental illness for so long."
Kennedy added: "It will now be the law of the land that people with such illnesses deserve the same access to affordable coverage as those with physical illnesses."
The lead Republican sponsor in the Senate, Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico, singled out the Massachusetts Democrat for credit, calling his efforts remarkable. "This has been a labor of love for us," Domenici said in a statement.
The mental parity law, one of many amendments included in the legislation to broaden legislative support for the bailout package, requires health insurance companies to charge the same deductibles, copayments, and out-of-pocket expenses for mental health treatments as for all other illnesses.
Among other requirements, the law also requires the US Department of Labor to report to Congress every two years on how group health plans are complying with the law.
The nonprofit Mental Health America estimates that 67 percent of adults and 80 percent of children requiring mental health services do not receive help, in large part because of discriminatory insurance practices.
"This is a historic day and a great civil rights victory for millions of Americans who have been unable to access mental health treatment," said David Shern, the organization's president and CEO. "With approval of this bill we will tear down the walls of stigma and discrimination and open the doors to the power and promise of treatment and recovery."