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Health Insurers Block Mental Health Parity Bill

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Health-insurance companies have been successful in blocking a bill that would mandate equal coverage for mental and physical illnesses, the Associated Press reported June 14.

The parity bill appeared to have majority support in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives. But House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) refused to schedule a House vote. In the Senate, Republicans blocked passage of the bill last fall.

“The bottom line is there is still enormous resistance from employers and health plans, and they've been able to turn to allies in the Senate and especially the House,” said Andrew Sperling, a lobbyist for the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.

According to lobbying reports, health insurers like BlueCross BlueShield Association, United Healthcare Corp., WellPoint Health Networks, and the trade group America's Health Insurance worked aggressively to defeat the legislation. Combined, the groups spent more than $13 million last year in lobbying on issues that included mental-health parity.

Karen Ignagni, chief executive of America's Health Insurance Plans, said employers were concerned that the bill would increase healthcare costs and cause some companies to drop mental-health coverage entirely.

The Congressional Budget Office had estimated that the legislation would increase health insurance costs by less than 1 percent.

Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.), one of the bill's main supporters, said sponsors of the bill are receptive to requiring only coverage for mental illnesses that are already covered by a specific health plan. But the scaled-back bill may not be enough to win the support of health insurers.

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