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The Personal Tragedies Behind The Mental Health Parity Bill

Posted by Jane Akre
Friday, October 10, 2008 2:19 PM EST
Category: Major Medical, Protecting Your Family
Tags: Mental Health, FDA and Prescription Drugs, Ted Kennedy, Paul Wellstone, Pete Domenici, Depression, Schizophrenia, Bi-Polar Disorder, Psychiatric Drugs


Paul Wellstone began the mental health parity bill a dozen years ago.

The late Sen. Paul Wellstone



IMAGE SOURCE:  Wikimedia Commons/ the late Paul Wellstone/ author: Congress 


The late Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn) was not there.  Neither Was Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) who is fighting a brain tumor.

Senator Pete Domenici, (R-N.M.) was the lawmaker to see the 12-year old bi-partisan mental health parity bill signed into law by President Bush last week.

It’s the result of a rare effort that put aside partisan politics by three men who’ve experienced mental health tragedies in their families. 

Wellstone, who was killed in a plane crash in 2002, took up the bill a dozen years ago. His brother was hospitalized as a boy with mental disorders, nearly causing financial disaster to his family. 

Pete Domenici’s daughter, Clare, was diagnosed with atypical schizophrenia 20 years ago.

And Ted Kennedy, who took up the charge after Wellstone’s death, had a sister Rosemary who spent her life in a mental institution. Her treatment included a lobotomy which was one treatment for mental illness 60 years ago. 

Kennedy’s former wife, Joan still fights a personal battle with alcoholism and his son Patrick has suffers from depression and prescription drug abuse.

"Senator Domenici became a hero for us," said Michael Fitzpatrick, director of the National Alliance in Mental Illness (NAMI) tells ABC News. "His tenacity and vision over the course of many years finally brought it home."

Named for its initial sponsors, the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act should make life easier for those who seek mental health treatment.

Typically, sufferers have faced discrimination in the workplace and in seeking treatment, such as higher co-payments and a limit on doctor visits.  The bill requires insurance plans that offer mental health coverage to do so as they would cover physical illness.

Companies with more than 50 employees are affected. 

58 million Americans have a diagnosable mental health problem, which can lead to suicide, drug or alcohol dependency, unemployment and homelessness.

"There isn't an individual or a family that has been spared the impact of these devastating illnesses," Rep. Kennedy said in an e-mail. "To deny coverage, when proven and available treatments can make such a positive difference in a person's life and their family's life, is beyond infuriating."

Ironically, Domenici was just diagnosed with Pick’s disease, which is a progressive disease that affects brain function such as decision-making, mood and behavior.  He is set to retire next year.  

113 million Americans are expected to benefit from the new law.   #

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