Mental health has been perceived as not being as important as physical health. Mental health is essential to leading a healthy life. Many believe that it is the responsibility of the family to take care of the mentally ill. Mental health care and care for the mentally ill have not been recognized in the same way as general medical care. The idea of mental health parity came about as a result of the inequity in mental health coverage by insurance companies.
The Mental Health Parity Act was initiated by members of congress. However, along the way, psychologists, mental health advocacy groups, social workers, consumer groups, health care professionals, and members of the community, fought for fair and equal health insurance coverage for mental health.
Mental health advocates were the first group of people to address inequities in healthcare coverage of physical and mental health in the 1950s. Parity is the equal insurance coverage of mental and physical conditions. Mental Health advocates brought attention to the unequal provisions of coverage by health insurance companies.
Members of Congress, Members of the American Psychological Association, Psychologists, mental health advocates, and members of the community, promoted the Mental Health Parity Act.
The 1960s saw the first mandate for mental health insurance parity. during President John F. Kennedy’s term (Shockley, 2010). President Kennedy had a personal experience on the impact of mental illness. His sister, Rosemary, was diagnosed with a mental illness. President Kennedy proposed and signed the Community Mental Health Act in 1963. The US Civil Services Commission was asked to require that the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program (FEHB), which is the health insurer for federal employees, cover psychiatric illness equitably to physical medical care. Two national insurance plans that provided coverage for federal employees were ordered to provide mental health coverage at the same level as general medical care was covered .
Mental Health advocates continued the fight for fair and equal coverage of mental health services. The 1970s and 1980s saw a rise in managed care by health insurance companies. During these years private insurance companies were allowed to cut back on the cost of coverage that was imposed by the parity mandate. It was during these years that the state legislature became actively involved in making improvements in mental health care benefits provided by insurance companies.
Members of the American Psychological Association joined the fight for mental health parity in the early 1990s. Advocates for parity continued to advocate and fight for equitable coverage. Federal lawmakers enacted the first federal mandate for mental health parity in 1992. The legislation was introduced by two Republican senators, Senator Pete Domenici, a conservative Republican from New Mexico, and Senator John Danforth an independent from Minnesota. They were not successful in getting the bill passed at that time. Nonetheless, the senators continued to push for parity legislation. the effort for parity.
President Bill Clinton attempted to reform healthcare. Within his healthcare reform package was a smaller package that would have required some parity for mental health services. The failure of the health care reform bill was yet another failed attempt at mental health parity. The energy and enthusiasm to gain mental health parity did not die with the healthcare reform bill. The senators gained more momentum and continued to fight for mental health parity.
In 1995 Senator Nancy Kassebaum introduced a bill that would revisit parity in mental health coverage. It was called The Health Insurance Reform Act. The act passed. However, it failed to include parity. The preclusion of parity in this act led to Senator Domenici and Senator Paul Wellstone introducing a comprehensive parity bill. The senators had hoped to include the plan in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). The senators had yet another failed attempt at gaining mental health parity.