Senate Folds Mental Health Parity Into Wall Street Bailout Bill

For those Health Blog readers who didn’t manage to read every line of the ballyhooed bailout bill the Senate passed last night, allow us to direct your attention to page 310 (Title V, Subtitle B), home to the “Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008.”

What’s a mental health bill doing in a piece of legislation designed
to grease the gears of global finance? Turns out, it’s just a bit of
Congressional housekeeping.

The Senate and the House both passed the mental health bill last week.
The bill requires mid-sized and large businesses that offer mental
health coverage to provide benefits that are comparable to the benefits
provided for physical ailments. It was a compromise years in the making, and drew broad support.

The bill passed the House as a standalone measure but was folded in
with other legislation in the Senate; in order to send the bill off to
the President (who supports the bill), both houses have to pass it in
identical form.

Enter the bailout bill. It could be the last major piece of legislation passed by Congress this year, the AP says.
And it gives Congress a chance to get the mental health parity bill on
the President’s desk to be signed into law — provided the House of
Representatives passes the bailout bill this time around. House leaders
are cautiously optimistic that the bill will go through, but they’re
not making any promises, the WSJ reports.

Sen. Ted Kennedy, who has worked on mental health parity for a decade, was the lone senator not to cast a vote on the bailout legislation. He missed it due to his continuing battle with brain cancer.

Update, Oct. 3: The House passed the bill, and the President signed it into law.

Excerpted from The Wall Street Journal