Parity legislation achieves historic milestone

In a victory for millions of Americans with mental health and substance use disorders, both chambers of Congress have now passed full mental health parity bills for the first time in U.S. history

by Communications Staff

March 27, 2008 — The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act of 2007 on March 5, bringing the country closer than ever to ensuring equal treatment for millions of Americans with mental health and substance use disorders. Both chambers of Congress have now passed full mental health parity bills for the first time in U.S. history.

Last September, the Senate unanimously passed the Mental Health Parity Act of 2007. Although there are differences in the House and Senate bills, they are similar in many important respects. Both preserve strong parity and consumer protection laws at the state level while extending federal parity protections to tens of millions more Americans.

For over a decade, the American Psychological Association (APA) has worked with members to end discriminatory health insurance coverage. Since passage of the Mental Health Parity Act of 1996, the APA has urged federal lawmakers to close loopholes in that act and finally make insurance coverage of mental health benefits truly equal to coverage of physical health benefits. The APA Practice Organization (APAPO), a companion to APA, took up the call for parity when the organization was created in 2001.

"We could not have reached this historic day without the strong and steadfast support of grassroots psychologists, health consumers and their families," said Marilyn Richmond, JD, assistant executive director of government relations for the APA Practice Organization (APAPO). "We are advocating for Members of Congress to complete negotiations on a parity bill that can pass both chambers this year."

Ms. Richmond says psychology advocates are hopeful that the momentum culminating in the recent landmark action in the House will continue. "With the intense work that has been accomplished in both chambers, Congress has an historic opportunity to pass a full mental health parity law this year."

The push for parity intensified on March 12, when psychology leaders attending the 2008 APAPO State Leadership Conference in Washington, DC, participated in approximately 300 meetings with their elected officials and staff on Capitol Hill. The advocates for professional psychology called on Members of Congress to enact a strong parity bill in 2008.

For more information on the federal parity bills and the importance of psychology's advocacy efforts, read the APAPO fact sheet, "Congress Should Enact a Mental Health Parity Bill This Year" (PDF, 28 KB).