Tucked into the bailout bill is a breakthrough for the estimated 113 million Americans with mental illnesses – a provision making it illegal for health insurance companies to discriminate against patients with psychological or behavioral disorders.
The measure, hailed by a leading mental health advocacy group as a “great civil rights victory,” marks the end of a decade-long struggle led by Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and his son, Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island.
“The miracles of modern medicine make mental illness just as treatable today as physical illnesses,” Sen. Kennedy, who has brain cancer, said in a statement. The lead Republican sponsor in the Senate, Pete Domenici of New Mexico, singled out the Massachusetts Democrat for credit, calling his efforts remarkable. “This has been a labor of love for us,” Domenici said in a statement.
The mental parity law, one of many amendments in the legislation to broaden legislative support for the bailout package, requires health insurance companies to charge the same deductibles, co-payments and out-of-pocket expenses for mental health treatments as for all other illnesses.