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Mental Health Parity Provisions Added to Tax Bill

July 29, 2008
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The full Senate this week may consider mental health care benefits parity legislation as part of a broader tax bill, but prospects for that bill are uncertain, lobbyists say.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Montana, attached the parity provisions—drawn from an informal agreement between congressional negotiators who worked out differences between House- and Senate-approved parity measures—to the tax bill, S.B. 3335.

Like earlier parity measures cleared by the House and Senate, the parity provisions in the tax bill would require group health care plans to provide the same coverage for mental disorders as they do for other medical conditions.

That would be a big change from current law, which bars discriminatory annual and lifetime dollar limits on mental health care coverage but allows discrimination in other ways, such as letting plans pay only 50 percent of mental health care expenses while they cover 80 percent of expenses for treatment of other medical problems.

However, business lobbyists said the tax bill—for reasons unrelated to the parity provisions—is unlikely to get the 60 votes needed to stop Senate floor debate on it, effectively delaying a final vote on the bill. Lobbyists said the measure, which among other things extends numerous expiring Tax Code provisions, is likely to be considered again when the Senate returns in September after the congressional August recess.

A tax extender bill earlier approved by the House does not include provisions for mental health benefits parity.

Filed by Jerry Geisel of Business Insurance, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, e-mail editors@workforce.com.

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