Congress should enact a mental health parity bill this year

by Government Relations Office

A strong push is needed to pass a mental health parity bill into law in 2008. The Senate has passed a strong bill, and the House has now passed a similar bill, but time is short. Please urge negotiations now between the House and Senate so that mental health parity can become law this year.

The Senate mental health parity bill (S. 558), sponsored by Pete V. Domenici (R-NM), Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) and Michael B. Enzi (R-WY), was passed by a unanimous vote on September 18, 2007. The House passed H.R. 1424, sponsored by Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) and Jim Ramstad (R-MN), on March 5, 2008 on a vote of 268 to 148.

The Senate and House bills are very similar and both fully protect consumers by...

  • Completely ending insurance discrimination against mental health and substance use disorder benefits by requiring full parity coverage with physical health benefits.
  • Preserving strong state parity and consumer protection laws while extending parity protection to 82 million more people who cannot be protected by state laws.

Differences between the Senate and House parity bills can be worked out so that ultimately negotiations produce a bill that can pass the Senate and is acceptable to the House. While the bills are similar in many respects, there are differences to be addressed. These primarily concern: how the range of diagnoses to be covered will be specified, how the law will address the management of benefits by health plans, and how out-of-network services will be covered.

The Congressional Budget Office projects that House and Senate parity bills would raise average health plan costs by only 0.4 percent. This cost increase is shared between the employer and employee, with the employer typically paying a third of the total.

Pass parity this year: Employers continue to pay the cost of untreated mental disorders

  • Indirect costs of untreated mental health disorders result in a $79 billion annual loss to businesses due to loss of productivity and absenteeism.
  • Indirect costs of poor employee health, such as absenteeism, disability and lost performance at work are two to three times higher than the direct medical costs.
  • Total cost of presenteeism (productivity loss resulting from real on-the-job employee health problems) is estimated to be more than $150 billion a year. Mood disorders alone are estimated to cost more than $50 billion per year in lost productivity.
  • American employees used about 8.8 million sick days in 2001 due to untreated or mistreated depression.
  • Depression results in more days of disability than chronic health conditions such as heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes.

Pass parity this year: Behavioral health problems have a large yearly cost to employers and the nation

  • Anxiety: Total cost $42.3 billion; 88 percent of the cost per worker suffering from anxiety is attributable to decreased productivity.
  • Depression: Total cost $83.1 billion; $26.1 billion (31 percent) in direct medical costs, $5.4 billion (7 percent) in suicide related mortality costs, and $51.5 billion (62 percent) in workplace costs.
  • Substance Abuse: Total cost $246 billion — $148 billion for alcohol, $98 billion for drugs. Lost productivity accounts for $162 billion of the total cost.