I am very pleased that the Senate approved the Mental Health Parity Act of 2007 (S.558) by unanimous consent last night. The measure, approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee in mid-February, was developed by the lawmakers in talks with mental health, insurance and business organizations to strike a compromise. With 57 cosponsors, the bill clearly has broad bipartisan support.

S.558 builds on a 1996 Mental Health Parity law by requiring health insurance plans that offer mental health coverage to ensure that coverage is on par with the coverage offered for other physical illnesses. It does not mandate that group plans must provide any mental health coverage, but will improve coverage for about 113 million Americans.

This legislation will bring fairness and relief to millions of Americans with mental illness. It unites mental health advocates, providers, employers and insurers to advance a noble goal. The bill is years, if not decades, in the making, and reflects countless hours of sweat and negotiation. I want to thank Senator Domenici and Senator Kennedy for their invaluable leadership on this important issue.

S.558 would provide mental health parity for about 113 million Americans who work for employers with 50 or more employees. It will ensure that health plans do not place more restrictive conditions on mental health coverage than on medical or surgical coverage. As such it would require:

  • Parity for financial requirements like deductibles, co-payments, and annual and lifetime limits; and,

  • Parity for treatment limitations such as the number of covered hospital days and visits.

The measure was written following almost two years of negotiation involving lawmakers, mental health, insurance and business organizations to develop compromise legislation. The Senate bill has been endorsed by scores of business, insurance and health organizations.

Today, about 26 percent of American adults, or nearly 58 million people, suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder each year. Six percent of these adults suffer from a serious mental illness. Mental illness is also closely linked to the more than 30,000 suicides in the United States every year. In addition, an estimated 16 percent of all inmates in state and local jails suffer from a mental illness.