U.S. House to vote today on Wellstone bill

Paul Wellstone
The late Paul Wellstone, who served in the U.S. Senate from Minnesota from 1990-2002, when he was killed in a plane crash in northern Minnesota.
MPR file photo

WASHINGTON (AP) - The House is scheduled to vote Wednesday on mental health parity legislation named for the late Sen. Paul Wellstone that would require equal health insurance coverage for mental and physical illnesses when policies cover both.

"I cannot emphasize enough how historic this vote will be," said Wellstone's son, David Wellstone, in a letter to activists. "For five years, I have heard promise after promise that Congress will pass mental health parity legislation in my father's honor."

"I cannot emphasize enough how historic this vote will be."

Paul Wellstone, a Minnesota Democrat who championed mental health parity for years, was killed in a plane crash in 2002. David Wellstone is urging people to contact House members on the eve of the vote Tuesday to rally support for the bill, called the "The Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act."

In 1996, Paul Wellstone and Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., won passage of a law banning plans that offer mental health coverage from setting lower annual and lifetime spending limits for mental treatments than for physical ailments.

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The House legislation - and a mental health parity bill that the Senate passed last year - build on that by adding things like co-payments, deductibles and treatment limitations, a longtime goal of Wellstone's. David Wellstone calls the House bill stronger; he, in fact, had his father's name taken off the Senate version.

The House bill is sponsored by Reps. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., who has battled depression, alcoholism and drug abuse, and Jim Ramstad, R-Minn., a recovering alcoholic. Ramstad plans to retire at the end of the year, but has said he wants to see the bill passed before he goes.

"We've waited 12 long years, and we're finally getting a vote in the House to pass landmark legislation ending discrimination against people who need treatment for mental illness and chemical addiction," Ramstad said in a statement released by his office.

David Wellstone said he'll be in Washington next week to lobby for the bill.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)