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
"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.