We heard some good news this week. Some of you may have read about the Mental Health Parity Bill that was passed in both the House and the Senate on September 23. This is big news for the eating disorders community because the bill requires health insurers to cover mental illnesses (which include anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorder) exactly as they do physical illnesses.
As many of you probably know from first-hand experience, under current law, it’s common for insurers to charge higher co-pays for mental health benefits. Often, in the case of eating disorders, insurers will simply deny coverage, claiming treatment is not medically necessary. (See our LA Times op-ed piece piece on the tragic consequences of this practice for one young anorexic woman in California).
I spoke to Mike Harney, policy advisor to Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), chief sponsor of the House bill, who explains that while the content of the House and Senate bills is identical, the House bill
Is a stand-alone bill that provides for a $3.9 billion 10-year budget offset that would pay for the costs of the legislation, while the Senate version is part of a much larger tax bill. They will have to hammer out an agreement on which form of the bill they will send to White House for the president’s signature. “We’re confident we’ll get a bill this year,” says Harney.
An earlier, more liberal version of the House bill would have required that all health insurance plans cover all illnesses included in the DSM-IV, or Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association. Despite losing this stipulation in the bill, Harney says, “We would still expect that most plans will cover [eating disorders] and now they’ll have to cover them on the same basis as physical disorders.”
An earlier version of the Senate’s mental health parity bill, meanwhile, would have pre-empted any state legislation on mental health parity (meaning that even if a state had in place a more inclusive mental health parity bill, only the weaker federal bill would have been enforceable). The revised Senate bill passed on Tuesday allows states that have tougher mental health parity legislation in place to enforce that law. The new bill “establishes a floor, not a ceiling,” explains Harney.
As of 2007, 43 states had mental parity laws, and 17 of those, or 40%, defined mental illness broadly enough to include eating disorders. So you can see how this federal bill, which President Bush is said to support, will help so many more eating-disordered patients and their families get the treatment they need.