Mental Health Parity Act Gets Senate Approval

September 21, 2007 ( - The U.S. Senate on Tuesday unanimously passed the Mental Health Parity Act, which requires health plan sponsors to offer similar coverage for mental illness as they offer for other medical conditions.

The bill, S. 558 , does not require group health plans to offer mental health coverage, but requires those that do to have similar out-of-pocket expenses and treatment limits for mental health care as compared to other benefits provided by the plan, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) pointed out in a news report.

The House Education and Labor Committee approved the bill in July (See House Panel Approves Mental Health Parity Bill ). However, the House bill differs from the Senate bill in that the House bill hands more power to the states to set stronger standards governing cost sharing and treatment parity for mental health care services, while the Senate bill preempts state control. In addition, the House bill requires the employer to provide coverage for the same range of mental disorders and illnesses which are covered by federal health care plans available to members of Congress, where the Senate bill gives employers discretion over what disorders to cover.

The legislation still must gain approval of the full Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce committees. According to political observers, SHRM said, there has been talk among Senate and House leaders that S. 558 would be introduced in the House and offered as a substitute for H.R. 1424.