House and Senate pass parity bills

The Senate and House each passed parity legislation on September 23, but further congressional action is needed to achieve a law by the end of the legislative session

by Communications Staff

September 30, 2008 — For over a decade, the American Psychological Association (APA) has worked with Congress to achieve a full mental health parity law that would end discrimination in health insurance coverage against those suffering from mental health disorders. In historic votes on September 23, the Senate and House each passed parity legislation by strong bipartisan votes.

Through an 84-11 vote, the Senate added the parity agreement and many other unrelated provisions to the tax extender package (H.R. 6049) and passed the bill. On the House side, the parity agreement passed as a stand-alone bill (H.R. 6983) by an overwhelming vote of 376-47, gaining the support of all Democrats present and the vast majority of Republicans.

Because the parity agreement has now passed the House and Senate in separate legislative vehicles, congressional leaders must decide on a final package, which will require another vote in the coming few days. As Congress considers other critical issues like the current Wall Street financial crisis, the APA Practice Organization will keep up the pressure to ensure that parity makes it to the President's desk for signature into law before Congress adjourns for the year.

Since passage of the Mental Health Parity Act of 1996, the APA Practice Directorate has urged federal lawmakers to close the 1996 Act's loopholes 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 full parity when the organization was created in 2001.

With the final passage of parity legislation, large group insurance plans would be required to provide the mental health benefits they offer at parity for every aspect of coverage — both in-network and out-of-network. From treatment limits to co-pays, deductibles and out-of pocket maximums, patients would no longer face unfair and arbitrary restrictions on their mental health benefits coverage.

The APAPO has kept up the push for parity in myriad ways. Psychology leaders attending the March 2008 APAPO State Leadership Conference in Washington, DC, participated in approximately 300 meetings with their elected officials and staff on Capitol Hill, calling on Members of Congress to enact a strong parity bill this year. Through the APAPO Legislative Action Center, practitioners sent more than 13,000 messages this year urging their Members of Congress to pass parity. The APAPO held a National Call-In Day on September 10 for practitioners to contact their senators and representatives. And on September 17 APAPO joined hundreds at a parity rally on Capitol Hill with Representative Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), Representative Jim Ramstad (R-MN) and Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT), among other members of Congress.