'Heart Act' Would Provide Treatment Parity Under Group Plans

U.S. lawmakers are considering legislation that would provide addiction-treatment parity under group health plans and health insurance coverage, Alcoholism & Drug Abuse Weekly reported June 16.

The Help Expand Access to Recovery and Treatment (Heart) Act of 2003 is aimed specifically at employer-sponsored health insurance coverage.

Under the measure, introduced by Sen. Norman Coleman (R-Minn.) and Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.), health insurers would be required to offer addition treatment coverage in line with medical and surgical benefits. The bill extends to such areas as co-payments, deductibles, and treatment stays.

If a group health plan currently provides addiction-treatment benefits, the bill would prohibit treatment limitation or financial requirements unless similar limitations or requirements are imposed for medical and surgical benefits.

According to Ramstad, only 2 percent of the 16 million addicted individuals covered by health plans are able to obtain adequate treatment.

“The American Medical Association recognized alcoholism as a disease in 1956,” said Ramstad. “People living with chemical dependency have been discriminated against by our nation's healthcare system for far too long. It's time to knock down the barriers to chemical-dependency treatment and to end the discrimination against people with addiction.”

Dan Elling, a legislative assistant for Ramstad, said addiction parity legislation has strong support in the U.S. Senate, but could face challenges in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“I don't think its passage is likely in the House, but it may pass the Senate,” he said. “The legislation in the House is not as popular with the leadership.”

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