Maybe this will be the year that Congress passes a bill mandating full parity for behavioral health benefits. After all, several factors are in parity's favor:
The Coalition for Fairness in Mental Illness Coverage reports that the Paul Wellstone Mental Health Equitable Treatment Act (HR 1402) is cosponsored by more than half the House, and companion legislation is expected to be introduced in the Senate soon.
A study of the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program published this spring found that the program's implementation of parity has not significantly increased costs. Perspectives on this study begin on p. 49 of this issue.
Last month the Senate defeated the Health Insurance Marketplace Modernization and Afford-ability Act (HIMMA), which (among other provisions) would have allowed health plans to ignore state behavioral health parity laws and mandates.
This spring the bipartisan Senate Caucus on Mental Health Reform was created (although details were lacking at press time).
In addition, perhaps Rep. Patrick Kennedy's public admission of struggling with both bipolar disorder and prescription drug abuse will motivate lawmakers to end insurance discrimination against all behavioral health disorders.
Also, let's not forget the precarious situation facing the GOP in Congress, who could lose control of at least one chamber in November. If Democrats do take control, and parity has not passed by then, we must hold the party's feet to the fire, demanding they make good on their perennial promises to improve healthcare.
For my part, I've written my senators and House representative, asking them to do all that they can to make parity a reality. I urge you to do the same. It's an election year, and lawmakers want to hear our opinions. Let's make this the year for parity.
Douglas J. Edwards, Editor-in-Chief