Reintroduced bill aims to expand Medicare's mental health coverage

Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) reintroduced a bill that would expand Medicare's mental healthcare coverage by eliminating a cap on Medicare services for mentally ill patients.

The bill would end the lifetime limit of 190 days of inpatient psychiatric hospital care. "There is no good reason why Medicare should randomly shut down benefits and force mentally ill seniors to go without treatment," said Kerry, notes The Hill's Healthwatch.

Kerry and Snowe hope the legislation will end discrimination against Medicare patients who suffer from mental illness, as there is no lifetime limit for any other Medicare specialty inpatient hospital service. By eliminating this limit, the Medicare Mental Health Inpatient Equity Act will equalize Medicare mental health coverage with private health insurance coverage, Kerry and Snowe said in a statement.

The bill also will expand beneficiaries' choices for inpatient psychiatric care providers, increase access for the most seriously ill, improve continuity of care and create a more cost-effective Medicare program.

Kerry and Snowe first introduced the bill last year. So far, 80 national organizations have pledged support, including AARP, the American Psychological Association and the American Hospital Association.

For more:
- here's the bill (.pdf)
- read Kerry and Snowe's statement
- read The Hill's Healthwatch blog post
- read a letter of support from the Mental Health Liaison Group (.pdf)