Senate Committee Approves Mental Health Parity Bill

February 14, 2007 ( - The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Wednesday approved by an 18-3 vote a bill mandating parity for mental health benefits in group health care plans.

Business Insurance reports t he legislation would require plans to impose the same cost-sharing requirements for mental health expenses as imposed for other medical expenses. The measure would also mandate that a plan could not limit the number of mental health outpatient visits covered if comparable limits are not imposed for other medical treatments, and would require mental health care expenses to be included in overall deductible amounts.

A mental health parity law passed in 1996 banned discriminatory annual and lifetime dollar limits on mental health benefits, but allowed for separate deductible amounts. That law expired at the end of 2006 (See Senate Bill Would Extend Mental Health Parity Provisions ).

The new bill would apply to employers with 51 or more employees. Companies that could prove compliance would increase health care costs by more than 2% during the first year the bill goes into effect or more than 1% in subsequent years would be exempt from the parity requirements, according to Business Insurance.