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Kennedy and Domenici Introduce Wellstone Mental Health Parity Act of 2003

By Melinda Moore

Washington, DC–Speaking before a packed house of mental health lobbyists, activists, media and congressional staff, United States Senators Ted Kennedy and Pete Domenici recently introduced the Wellstone Mental Health Parity Act of 2003. The legislation honors the late U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone, a champion of mental health parity until his death last October in a plane crash. The bill was presented Feb. 27 in a stirring press conference in the Dirksen Building on Capitol Hill.

 "While I feel a profound sense of sadness, I also have a renewed determination to win parity for millions of Americans affected by these dreaded diseases of the brain," said Senator Domenici. "Health care policies are not keeping pace. Too often, families face financial ruin and shattered relations because mental health benefits are limited."

The Wellstone bill is modeled after the mental health benefits package provided Federal employees and seeks to prohibit group health insurers from treating mental health benefits differently than medical and surgical benefits. It seeks to provide full coverage for all categories of mental health conditions, with coverage contingent on a particular mental health condition being included in an authorized treatment plan. The legislation does not mandate coverage of mental health benefits and, if adopted, would apply to plans already providing coverage.

 "Equal treatment of the mentally ill is not just an insurance issue, it is a civil rights issue," Senator Kennedy told those assembled. "It defines our humanity as a society." His son, Patrick, a U.S. representative from Rhode Island, and U.S. Representative Jim Ramstad of Minnesota co-sponsored the bill in the House of Representatives.

The group stood beside more than 30,000 petitions signed by young people nationwide, urging Congress to pass this legislation. The petitions were collected by Preventing Suicide Associate Publisher Arielle Bielak during the Plea for Peace/Take Action Tour, America’s premiere punk rock music tour that traveled to 38 U.S. cities between late September and the end of October, 2002, and benefited the Kristin Brooks Hope Center, program manager for the National Hopeline Network/1.800.SUICIDE (784-2433) and publisher of  Preventing Suicide.

One in five Americans will suffer some form of mental illness, but only one third of them will receive treatment. At least four million children suffer with a major mental illness and forces parents to choose between care their child needs and the other financial needs of the family. If passed into law, the Wellstone Mental Health Parity Act of 2003 would help end insurance discrimination.

Melinda Moore is interim executive director of the Kristin Brooks Hope Center.






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