Mental Health America Commends Inclusion of Mental Health,
Substance Use Coverage in
Health Reform Legislation
Contact: Steve Vetzner, (703) 797-2588 or email@example.com
ALEXANDRIA, Va. (July 16, 2009)-Mental Health America today commended Senate and House health reform legislation for including mental health and substance use coverage in a benefit package.
Both the health reform package introduced on Tuesday by House leaders and a bill approved yesterday by the Senate Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee would ensure that mental health and substance use services are considered essential benefits and would be available to all individuals covered through the new federal program for the uninsured.
"Recent studies have confirmed that a large proportion of low-income, uninsured individuals have poor mental health," said David L. Shern, Ph.D., president and CEO of Mental Health America. "We are pleased that both health reform proposals take the important step of including mental health and substance use coverage as essential benefits."
Dr. Shern testified before a House subcommittee last month on the need to include mental health as part of health reform. (The prepared testimony can be found here.)
Mental Health America also expressed appreciation that both the Senate and House bills include mental health and addiction treatment parity provisions in the programs that would be established to cover the uninsured, including individuals applying for coverage independently. Mental health and addiction treatment have historically been subject to blatantly discriminatory limits on coverage through private insurance plans that block access to effective and critically needed therapies.
"We want to ensure that all health care plans offered through this new federal program comply with the principle of nondiscrimination and parity for behavioral health services," Dr. Shern said.
Legislation enacted last year, the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, prohibits unequal treatment limits and financial requirements for mental health and substance use treatment in group health plans for more than 50 workers. But that bill does not cover all health insurance plans.
Mental Health America also commended the legislation for establishing key market reforms including prohibiting preexisting condition exclusions.
Dr. Shern said both bills would help improve chronic care management and lower health costs by promoting development of medical homes and other care coordination models.
"It is critical that behavioral health specialists are included in the treatment teams established through these care models and also that mental health or addiction treatment facilities be allowed to serve as medical homes, said Dr. Shern. "Mental health disorders are the leading cause of disability in the United States based on burden of disease and these conditions often accompany and greatly increase the cost of treating other chronic illnesses, including diabetes, asthma, cancer and heart disease."
Mental Health America has placed a high priority on improving access to preventive services and mental health promotion as a key component of health care reform and is pleased that both the HELP and House bills include a number of provisions to improve coverage of health risk assessments and screening services as well as support for community-based prevention programs.
Celebrating 100 years of mental health education and advocacy, Mental Health America is the country's leading nonprofit dedicated to helping all people live mentally healthier lives With our more than 300 affiliates nationwide, we represent a growing movement of Americans who promote mental wellness for the health and well-being of the nation-every day and in times of crisis. In 2009, we are marking a century of achievement with a year-long Centennial Observance: "Celebrating the Legacy, Forging the Future."