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House passes bill calling for a NIOSH research program on mental health in the workplace

Photo: HAKINMHAN/iStockphoto

Washington — The House has passed legislation that would establish a NIOSH research program on worker mental health.

The Mental Health Matters Act (H.R. 7780) – approved by a 220-205 margin on Sept. 29 – calls for the potential program to look at mental health stressors, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, workplace violence and increases in shift duration.

In addition, the bill would enforce two existing laws that require insurance companies to provide mental health and substance use disorder benefits on par with physical health benefits: the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 and the Mental Health Parity and Addition Equity Act of 2008.

“Unfortunately, workers and families continue to face barriers – from forced arbitration to inadequate enforcement – to holding retirement and benefit plan sponsors accountable for parity in access to behavioral health benefits,” a fact sheet from the House Education and Labor Committee states. “In a recent report to Congress, the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and the Treasury found widespread violations of the MHPAEA by group health plans and insurers who are failing to maintain parity between mental health benefits and physical health benefits.

“The report further recommended that Congress enhance the secretary of Labor’s capacity to enforce mental health parity, including providing authority to impose civil monetary penalties for violations.”


Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), ranking member of the House Education and Labor Committee, voted against the bill, in part, because of those monetary penalties.

“Employers and [health care] plans have been asking [DOL] for years to comply with the law and provide examples which illustrate compliance and noncompliance, recommendations to advance compliance, and clarifying information on how plans may demonstrate compliance,” Foxx said on the House floor. “However, instead of helping plans comply, DOL has blamed them for not being able to read the minds of Washington bureaucrats. Providing DOL with the authority to level civil monetary penalties against plans and increase their risk of litigation will only force plans to drop mental health coverage.”

The bill seeks to provide more mental health resources for schools, including an increase in the number of mental health professionals.

The fate of the bill in the Senate is unclear and the time to consider it is limited with the midterm elections in November and the 118th Congress beginning in January.

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