NEWS ADVISORY

February 14, 2007
PR-07/03
For additional information:
202-289-6700
Deanna Johnson, APR, 202-441-4140 (cell)
or Jason Hammersla, 202-422-4652 (cell)


Council commends mental health parity bill passed by Senate HELP committee

WASHINGTON, D.C. — "The American Benefits Council supports the compromise Senate mental health parity measure passed today by the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee in its 18 to 3 vote and applauds the bipartisan, inclusive manner in which this measure was developed," said President James A. Klein. "The Council has vigorously opposed previous parity measures that restricted plan medical management practices or imposed coverage mandates. We urge that the legislation approved today not be amended during further consideration by the Senate or in the House. For parity legislation to succeed in Congress or in the marketplace, it must not weaken or remove any of the key employer and health plan protection provisions."

The Mental Health Parity Act of 2007 (S. 588) was introduced earlier this week by HELP Committee Chairman Edward Kennedy (D-MA) along with two Republican cosponsors, Senators Peter Domenici (R-NM) and Michael Enzi (R-WY). The bill would require employer-sponsored group health plans covering 50 or more employees to have "no more restrictive" provisions for financial requirements such as deductibles and co-insurance amounts or limits on the duration of coverage than apply to "substantially all" medical and surgical benefits covered by the plan.

Klein said, "This bill was negotiated with groups representing employers -- including the Council -- health plans, mental health care providers and patient advocates. Leading up to this morning's vote, we urged approval of this proposal without further amendment as we consider it a more moderate version of previous attempts to legislate mental health parity. It earned our support because it imposes no mandates on the services or conditions a plan must cover, permits plans to contract with separate networks of mental health providers to deliver covered services, allows plans to employ a wide range of medical management practices to help ensure that only medically necessary care is covered and preempts state laws that 'differ from' the federal requirements."

"As detailed in our February 8 letter to the three Senate sponsors," Klein added, "the Council praises the balanced and candid process that led to the introduction of this bill. It is bipartisan in the best sense of the term. S. 588 includes important protections for plan sponsors and health plans. We will continue to urge that this package be forwarded to the House as it was approved by the HELP Committee and without amendments that would in any way weaken those protections."

HELP Committee Chairman Kennedy has indicated that he hopes to bring to the bill to the Senate floor by "late winter" and predicted that in the meantime the House of Representatives was likely to act on a separate parity measure sponsored by Representatives Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) and Jim Ramstad (R-MN). The House measure is expected to be introduced in the next several days and is likely to be much more restrictive than the Senate legislation, possibly also including a broad mandate on the mental health and substance abuse benefits that employer-sponsored plans must cover.

To arrange an interview with Klein or Paul Dennett, vice president, health policy, please contact Deanna Johnson, APR, Council director, communications, at djohnson@abcstaff.org, or Jason Hammersla, Council manager, communications & publications, at jhammersla@abcstaff.org. Both can be reached by phone at 202-289-6700.

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The American Benefits Council is the national trade association for companies concerned about federal legislation and regulations affecting all aspects of the employee benefits system. The Council's members represent the entire spectrum of the private employee benefits community and either sponsor directly or administer retirement and health plans covering more than 100 million Americans.