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Last week, the Senate Finance Committee began its markup of healthcare reform legislation, and during a late-night session Sept. 23, accepted a parity amendment that significantly improved the bill. There were more than 500 amendments offered after committee chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) introduced his draft, which does not include a public option but instead includes an insurance exchange.
The Finance bill is the only one that doesn't include a minimum benefit package for large group plans. Rather, the minimum benefit package applies only to individual and small group plans (fewer than 50 employees). "That's obviously a concern since addiction and mental health services wouldn't be required to be offered by group plans.," said Gabrielle de la Gueronniere, director for national policy of the Legal Action Center. Another central problem in the initial draft, lack of parity for substance use disorders and mental health benefits offered in the individual and small group plans, was addressed by amendments introduced during markup. During the Finance mark-up, Senators Stabenow (D-Mich.), Kerry (D-Mass.) and Wyden (D-Ore.) offered an amendment to require all plans in the exchange to meet the parity act requirements.
"When you're in a situation trying to shrink the cost of a bill, which is what the original Baucus bill does, what gets jettisoned first is often mental health …