Mental Health Parity Debate Reopens

March 11, 2002 ( - A House subcommittee has scheduled hearings this week on federal and state laws governing the provision of mental health coverage in employee health-care benefit packages.

The House Employer-Employee Relations Subcommittee is scheduled to hear from six witnesses at the March 13 session.

The hearings are an outgrowth of ongoing negotiations about legislation to equalize health coverage for mental problems with money spent for medical or physical ailments.

The goal is find a permanent replacement for The Mental Health Parity Act, which expired in September 2001.


Though the Senate approved an amendment to the Labor/HHS/Education Appropriations Act to expand the law (see House Republicans Axe Parity Provision ), a one-year extension of current law was instead added during conference negotiations with the House (see  Senate Approves Mental Health Benefits Parity Bill ). Therefore, the ERISA provisions of the Mental Health Parity Act will expire December 31, 2002.

Scheduled to appear in the first witness panel is Representative Marge Roukema (R-New Jersey) and Representative Patrick Kennedy (D-Rhode Island). Roukema sponsored the House parity bill while Kennedy has sponsored several bills on the subject.

HR 162, introduced by Roukema, and S. 543 would both require identical visit limitations and financial requirements, that is, equal co-pays and deductibles, for mental health and medical surgical coverage.

The second witness panel will include a mental health nurse, a benefits administrator, and others.