Thursday, March 6, 2008

Time Has Come to End Discrimination In Mental Health and Addiction Coverage: Senate Should Adopt House Version of Wellstone Mental Health Parity Act

The U.S. House of Representatives took a huge step towards ending discriminatory insurance coverage practices by passing with a vote of 268-148, legislation that specifies that if a health plan provides mental health benefits, it must cover mental illnesses and addiction disorders listed in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of Mental Disorders, which is used by mental health professionals.

The version passed by the House would help end the stigma of mental illness and create greater access for people needing mental health and addiction treatment. The Senate had previously passed a watered down version that had been gutted extensively by its Republican opponents. David Wellstone, son of the original Senate bill’s author, the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, withdrew his father’s name from the Senate’s version stating his father would have never supported the Senate bill.

The entire Minnesota Congressional delegation joined as sponsors and voted in favor of the House bill with the notable exceptions of Michelle Bachman and John Kline. In a page right out of the Karl Rove playbook, the Republican opponents conflated ridiculous and absurd examples into a false choice and railed against a perfectly sound piece of legislation. Along with Rep. Bachman and Rep. Kline, another Neanderthal opponent, Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., complained the House bill would mandate coverage for such conditions as jet lag and sexual dysfunction, both of which are listed in the psychiatric association's manual.

See "U.S. House Passes Mental Health Bill Named for Wellstone" by Tom Weber, Minnesota Public Radio March 6, 2008.

It is precisely this lack of understanding and insensitivity towards fellow citizens who suffer from mental illness and addiction disease that leads to the discriminatory practices that the House version attempts to address.

I have profound respect for retiring Minnesota Rep. Jim Ramstad, who has championed the legislation in the House and lead the bipartisan fight both in Congress and by personal example. Ramstad, a Republican and recovering alcoholic himself, sponsored colleague Patrick Kennedy, Democrat from Rhode Island after Rep. Kennedy’s public struggle with addiction a few years back. It’s too bad that so many of his so called Christian, right-wing, Republican colleagues would rather play politics with people’s lives and treat those suffering from mental illness and addiction disease so disrespectfully, instead of the way we would want our own family members treated. But I guess those people never heard of something called the Golden Rule.

The conflicting House and Senate bills have been sent to a conference committee in an attempt to reconcile the different versions so it can be presented to the President, whose signature remains doubtful. The President is said to favor the Senate bill because it “wouldn't significantly raise health care costs”. That is coming from the same cost conscious President and then Republican-controlled Congress that would not let the government negotiate with prescription drug manufacturers under Medicare.

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