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Wellstone legacy: Mental Health Parity Bill Signed into Law

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Senator Paul Wellstone

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The bailout bill was tacked on to the mental health parity bill to help pass the $700 billion "rescue" of financial markets. Mental health parity was championed by Sen. Paul Wellstone during his years in the Senate. It gives one pause to think how the late progressive sentor would have felt knowing that the financial bailout may not have passed without riding along on his coattails.

The Paul Wellstone-Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 was added to the financial rescue package to win support after the House rejected the bailout legislation earlier in the week. The law requires health insurers to provide benefits, co-payments and treatments for mental health services and substance abuse disorders equal to traditional medical coverage.

"This bill is a major achievement, one I know my dad would be proud of," said David Wellstone, co-founder of Wellstone Action.

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Wellstone Action, a progressive organization founded after Senator Wellstone's death, released the following statement today: 

Honoring Senator Paul Wellstone, Congress Passes Mental Health and Addiction Parity Legislation

"After nearly twelve years of hard work marked by strong advocacy, setbacks, compromises, and progress, today Congress passed the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 - comprehensive mental health and addiction parity legislation in honor of the late Senator Paul Wellstone. The bill was included in financial bailout package passed by the Senate on Monday and the House today.  It now moves to the President's desk.

Earlier this Congress, the House and Senate each passed its own version of the bill and worked hard to successfully reach a compromise final bill. The bill was championed by chief sponsors in the House, Representative Jim Ramstad (R-MN) and Representative Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), and in the Senate by Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM). In an election year crowded with issues and politics, these leaders, along with Sen. Wellstone's son, David Wellstone, kept the bill at the top of the national agenda and worked with Congressional leaders to get the bill passed before they adjourned for the year. "This bill is a major achievement, one I know my dad would be proud of," said David Wellstone.

"This bill will go a long way to ease the pain and suffering of those with mental illness and addiction, and I am proud to have been part of this effort. It's a great day." David Wellstone is the co-founder of Wellstone Action, an organization that has been mobilizing support for the bill.  

The Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 is a major step forward to end discrimination in insurance coverage for people with mental illness and substance abuse disorders. The legislation states that insurance plans may not place arbitrary and discriminatory restrictions on mental health and addiction coverage as compared to medical/surgical coverage. Millions of individuals and families have been affected by the inability to access equal coverage for mental health and addiction care.

The late Senator Paul Wellstone championed this issue during his time in the Senate, passing the 1996 groundbreaking parity law. He firmly believed that equal access to care was at its core a matter of fairness and justice and he never stopped fighting to improve the law. Passage of this legislation will save countless lives, and is a fitting tribute to Wellstone's legacy."

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Kathlyn Stone is a Minnesota-based writer covering science and medicine, health care and related policies.-She publishes www.fleshandstone.net, a health and science news site.

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