Sunday, March 02, 2003
Albuquerque Journal - March 01, 2003
WASHINGTON Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., joined Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., on Thursday to renew a push for expanded mental- health-care coverage for all Americans.
The new bill, which is identical to legislation that passed the Senate but died in the House last Congress, is named after the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, a Minnesota Democrat who was Domenici's chief ally in pushing the legislation last session.
Wellstone died late last year in a plane crash, but Domenici said his legacy will persist in the legislation introduced Thursday.
"We're missing a very, very important player," Domenici said at a Capitol Hill news conference. "He's no longer with us, but we're going to make sure he's with us every step of the way."
The Paul Wellstone Mental Health Equitable Treatment Act of 2003 would require group health plans to cover mental illnesses in the same manner as any other illness.
For example, a plan offering a $200,000 annual coverage limit for treatment of lung cancer would be required to offer the same annual cap for the treatment of schizophrenia. The measure would go beyond existing law by imposing identical restrictions on the number of hospital days and doctor visits allowed, as well as comparable co- payments and deductibles for treatments.
The Domenici-Kennedy bill would apply only to group health plans already providing mental-health benefits.
"It's getting more and more obvious to more and more people that the time is now to quit discriminating against people with illnesses of the brain," Domenici said.
Domenici said in an interview that Republican House leaders have told him they will will not stand in the way of the bill this year. Some House Republicans have been concerned about the bill's effect on businesses and the cost of health insurance premiums.
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated the bill would cause the health-care premiums of most Americans to rise by about 1 percent.
That could cause problems for Bush's economic recovery plan, according to the American Association of Health Plans, a Washington- based group that has concerns about the legislation.
"It will affect the bottom line, not just for employers but for people with working families," said Mohit M. Ghose, the group's public affairs director.
Domenici, who has an adult daughter with schizophrenia, said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., is strongly supporting the bill, and that President Bush also supports the concept of mental-health parity.
Bush first announced his support of a mental-health bill during a major policy speech in Albuquerque last year.
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