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“Mental Health Parity” Closer to Reality

March 7, 2008

Des Moines, IA – Congress is taking a big step toward erasing the stigma that's still attached to mental illnesses: the health insurance stigma. The U.S. House has passed the Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act (HR 1424), a bill to require equal insurance coverage for mental and physical illnesses. Two years ago, Iowa passed a similar law, but not many people ended up with coverage, according to Margaret Stout, executive director of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in Iowa.

Stout says the Iowa legislation was limited, and about three-quarters of those with mental health issues didn't get coverage.

"Many people end up in the correctional system when they do not have adequate coverage. We are seeing that in our state, and this is certainly happening across the nation."

She says a "mental health parity" law is needed at the federal level to end prejudice in the insurance industry and create greater access for people who need help.

"The reason we need that is there is discrimination yet in the insurance industry when it comes to providing coverage for people with mental illness. "

Opponents of the legislation say it could drive up health care costs and prompt employers to drop all insurance coverage. The Senate has already passed a much narrower version of the bill, so a conference committee will have to work out the differences.

Dick Layman/Craig Eicher, Public News Service - IA