Pioneer Editorial: Mental health parity legacy of Wellstone
In what will surely become the legacy of the late U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone, DFL-Minn., the U.S. House on Wednesday approved the Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act of 2007. A narrower version of the bill was passed last Septembe...
In what will surely become the legacy of the late U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone, DFL-Minn., the U.S. House on Wednesday approved the Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act of 2007. A narrower version of the bill was passed last September by the U.S. Senate, and the two bills will now be reconciled in conference committee.
It is the farthest such legislation has gone in more than a decade of trying.
It was an issue dear to Wellstone, who died in a 2002 plane crash on the Iron Range. He long championed the idea that people suffering from mental illnesses should have the same insurance coverages as those offered people who are physically ill.
"It is catch-up in terms of the mental health community; I would say we're behind," Wellstone told the Bemidji Pioneer in a 2001 interview. "There's much more stigma, more of a stereotype, that substance abuse and alcoholism is defined as a moral failing. People even feel more that way when it comes to mental illness. We've got to break down that barrier."
The mental health bill would provide full parity for all categories of mental health conditions as listed in a recognized manual of mental disorders. The plans must also meet standard protocols and medical necessity determination criteria.
The Senate version gives insurers more leeway on the types of mental disorders they would have to cover, and sets a threshold of businesses that would and would not have to provide the coverage. President Bush favors the Senate version as does the National Retail Federation. The House version provides better coverage, but it is encouraging that the president does have a preference instead of a veto threat.
The work will put into permanent law a major provision for people who have long suffered both financially and socially in a society that frowns on mental illness and addictions. But they can be treated and help restore the individual to productive society.
"With greater access to affordable mental health care, lives will be saved and the suffering of millions of Americans will be reduced," Wellstone said in 2001. "But we cannot lose sight of the fact that every American ought to have the right to comprehensive health care coverage. We must continue to fight for affordable, quality and comprehensive health care for all children and adults in America."
The Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act of 2007 is a start, and it is Paul Wellstone's legacy.