Saturday, March 8, 2008
Paul Wellstone’s legacy
House passes Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act.
I live in Minnesota, so it is with great pride that I report that the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed mental health and addiction legislation named after the late U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, involving issues that were very close to his heart.
Wellstone, who died in a plane crash in northern Minnesota in 2002, was a two-term Democratic Senator who championed the cause of full medical insurance for the coverage of addiction treatment and mental illness. The Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act of 2007, sponsored by Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island, passed the U.S. House on a vote of 268-148. The legislation will now be the subject of negotiations with the U.S. Senate, which earlier passed a similar but less stringent bill, sponsored by Rep. Patrick Kennedy’s father, Sen. Ted Kennedy.
Rep. Jim Ramstad of Minnesota, one of the bill’s key backers, and a recovering alcoholic, told Kevin Diaz of the Minneapolis Star Tribune: “This is not just another policy issue. It’s a matter of life and death for millions of Americans.”
The bill would require insurers to cover mental illness and addiction using the same guidelines as any other physical disease or ailment. Health insurance industry spokespeople said the bill goes too far, and would drive up health insurance premiums by mandating additional expensive treatments. The Senate version does not mandate mental health coverage, and offers exemptions for smaller group health plans.
But advocates of the Wellstone Act say that the provisions in the bill are long overdue. “We’re no longer going to allow people to languish in the shadows,” said Rep. Kennedy.
The House and Senate will also have to grapple with how the new bill will effect existing state legislation. According to Victoria Colliver in the San Francisco Chronicle, more than 25 states already have laws on the books mandating mental health coverage. Said California State Assemblyman Jim Beall Jr., who supports the Wellstone Bill: “If you don’t cover moderate mental problems or substance abuse, which often go together… you would not treat the person until their problems become acute—that’s not good health care.”