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Senate OKs Parity Amendment to Leading Healthcare Reform Bill

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Health insurance plans in the small-group and non-group market would be required to adhere to the addiction and mental-health parity provisions of last years' Wellstone/Domenici law under a amendment to the Senate's leading healthcare-reform bill approved this week.

The Senate Finance Committee passed the amendment by voice vote on Sept. 23; committee chairman Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) has taken the lead in the Senate's healthcare-reform deliberations with his America's Healthy Future Act.

“If healthcare reform passes, every insured American will be required to receive their addiction and mental-health benefits on par with medical benefits, and nearly all will be in a plan that is mandated to provide addiction and mental-health care,” said Carol McDaid, principal of Washington, D.C., lobbying firm Capital Decisions. “There's a growing sense of momentum to the field's collective advocacy efforts, but our heads are down as our wins underscore the need for getting the parity regulations right and continuing to amend and pass healthcare reform. If there was ever a time where we need an all out advocacy effort from our field, now is the time.”

The amendment, sponsored by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) along with Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), fills a major loophole in the Baucus bill. As originally drafted, the measure would have required small-group and non-group health plans — including those with fewer than 50 employers and those who buy individual insurance plans — to provide addiction and mental-health benefits. However, the bill would not have subjected these health plans to the Wellstone/Domenici law, which bars health plans from placing any limits or restrictions on addiction and mental-health coverage that do not apply to any other type of healthcare services.

Employers with more than 50 workers are already subject to the parity law, but would not be required to provide addiction and mental-health benefits — or any other specific benefits, for that matter — under the Baucus bill.

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