The U.S. House of Representatives, by a vote of 268 to 148 has passed the Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Act of 2007. The struggle to achieve mental health parity with physical illness coverage has been going on for the last decade.
The bill is named after the late Senator Paul Wellstone, a Minnesota Democratic Senator who died in a plane crash in 2002. Wellstone had pushed the legislation for many years.
The Associated Press carried the following reactions to the bill:
”It’s a historic step,” said the late senator’s son, David, 42. ”It’s a civil rights bill for people with mental illnesses and chemical addiction. It forces insurance companies to treat them as they treat others.” …
The House bill was sponsored by Reps. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., who has battled depression, alcoholism and drug abuse, and Jim Ramstad, R-Minn., a recovering alcoholic who is Kennedy’s Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor.
”It’s about opening up the doors and ending the shadow of discrimination against the mentally ill,” said Kennedy.
Former first lady Rosalynn Carter, a longtime mental health advocate, said the bill would help erase the stigma of mental illness that prevents many people from seeking treatment.
The US Senate has previously passed a weaker version of the bill. The Senate bill was sponsored by Rep. Patrick Kennedy’s father, Senator Edward Kennedy and two Republicans – New Mexico Senator Pate Dominici and Wyoming Senator Mike Enzi. Senator Dominici has a daughter who has schizophrenia.
The House and Senate bill now go to conference committee. The house bill specifically says that mental illnesses and addiction disorders listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders would be covered under any plan offering mental health benefits. The Senate version is less specific and allows more variation in what would be covered.
The Bush White House opposes the House bill – even though Bush has in the past said he supported mental health parity. As usual words are easy for Bush and seem to mean little , his action and inaction tells the truth of his beliefs. Just like his inaction on global warming says more of where he is coming from than the few token utterances he has said about the need to do something about global warming. Words are cheap in the Bush White House.
see also New York Times , “House Approves Bill on Mental Health Parity“