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House tackles mental health parity bill

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A House committee is set to consider a bill meant to bring the state into line with national mental health parity standards. 

HB 889, sponsored by Rep. Patty Lewis, would prohibit insurance companies from imposing limitations on mental health benefits that are more stringent than those applied to medical or surgical benefits. Lewis said the bill would bring Missouri into line with the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act signed into law by former President George W. Bush in 2008; Missouri would be the last state to do so.

“The enforcement of that law was left up to the states, and 49 states have adopted it,” Lewis told The Missouri Times. “Mental health is health — depression is the leading cause of disability. Mental health is a chronic condition, and putting limits on care is just not right.”

Lewis said the bill had made progress in both chambers over the years with last session’s attempt failing to move forward due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Lewis said the bill saw broad bipartisan support in prior years and would be a vital change for Missouri in the wake of the virus. 

“We’re the only state that hasn’t enabled the enforcement of mental health parity laws,” she said. “The bill has made progress over the past couple of years, and there are so many that have committed to support the bill. It’s a win for all really. … With the pandemic, we’ve seen increased stressors in life and an increase in mental health issues and experts say they are expecting to see a surge in mental health conditions.”

Lewis presented her bill before the House Health and Mental Health Policy Committee Monday, with eight witnesses testifying in favor of the bill and no one speaking against it. Bruce Fletcher, a psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner, said the bill would provide patients with equitable mental health care as the pandemic wore on. 

“We are in the midst of a global pandemic accompanied by rising mental health problems, depression, anxiety, and suicide,” Fletcher said. “Medical disorders and mental health disorders are equivalent; they are both disorders that require treatment. An illness is an illness; if you are sick, you are sick.”

The committee did not take executive action on the bill Monday. 

A parallel effort is underway in the upper chamber; Sen. Greg Razer sponsored his own attempt this year, which has yet to receive a hearing.