For Immediate Release:
March 5, 2008
Stacey Farnen Bernards
(202) 225 - 3130
(202) 225 - 3130
WASHINGTON, DC - House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (MD) spoke on the House Floor today in support of the Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
"Mr. Speaker, I strongly support this long-overdue, bipartisan legislation to end discrimination against patients seeking treatment for mental illnesses.
"And, I want to commend Congressmen Kennedy and Ramstad for their hard work on this legislation – the Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act – which now has 274 co-sponsors on both sides of the aisle.
"Under this bill, an insurer or group health plan must ensure that any financial requirements – such as deductibles, co-payments, co-insurance and out-of-pocket expenses – applied to mental health and addiction treatments are no more restrictive or costly than the financial requirements applied to comparable medical and surgical benefits that the plan covers.
"It also requires equity in treatment limits. This means that the treatment limits – such as frequency of treatment, number of visits, and days of coverage – applied to mental health and addiction benefits are no more restrictive than the treatment limits applied to comparable medical and surgical benefits.
"It is important to note that this bill only applies to insurers and group health plans that provide mental health benefits. That is, it does NOT require plans that do not currently offer mental health benefits to do so.
"It also exempts businesses with 50 or fewer employees and businesses that experience an overall premium increase of two percent or more in the first year and one percent in subsequent years.
"Research has shown that there has been no significant cost increase attributable to the parity requirement in the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program, which has made parity coverage for mental health care available to more than 8.5 million federal employees for eight years.
"Furthermore, the bill’s enforcement mechanisms are real – permitting the IRS to enforce and levy fines and penalties on plans or disallowing employers from deducting health care costs as an expense.
"The two offsets in this bill were included in the Children’s Health and Medicare Protection Act (or CHAMP Act), which passed the House last August. The first increases the rebate – or discount – that drug companies are required to provide state Medicaid programs for drugs provided to Medicaid beneficiaries. And, the second prohibits physicians from referring patients to hospitals in which they have an ownership interest, with the ability to grandfather existing physician-owned hospitals.
"It is telling, Mr. Speaker, that this bill is supported by, among others, the American Hospital Association, the American Nurses Association, the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association.
"I urge my colleagues to vote against discrimination.
"Vote for equity in health care benefits for millions of Americans.
"Vote for this bipartisan bill."