“We all have known someone with a serious mental illness, within our families or circle of friends.” Senator Paul Wellstone stood before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on May 18 and made this appeal to people’s immediate, familiar lives as he advocated for disablity rights. Specifically, the senator’s testimony focused on the Mental Health Equitable Treatment Act (MHETA, S. 796), a legislative proposal which he introduced last April with the help of Republican Senator Pete Domenici.
“This bill goes a long way toward our bipartisan goal: That mental illness be treated like any other disease in health care coverage. It is a big step forward in ending the suffering of those with mental illness who have been unfairly discriminated against in their health care coverage. We must make treatment for this illness as available and as routine as treatment for any other disease,” said Wellstone.
If passed, this bill will expand on the mental health care rights that were included with the Mental Health Parity Act of 1996 (MHPA). The MHETA will erase the September 30, 2001 sunset provision established for the MHPA and also, it will ensure that private health insurance companies may not put limits on the number of covered hospital days and outpatient visits for all mental illnesses. These limits could prevent a person with mental illness from receiving all of the necessary care that their conditions may require.
In addition, private health insurers would equalize the costs for patients with mental illnesses and those without mental illnesses. The cost disparity between these two groups for co-payments, deductibles, hospital and outpatient visits would decrease greatly as a result of the Wellstone-Domenici bill.