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Time for mental health parity

It took about a dozen years for the late Sen. Paul Wellstone’s Mental Health Parity and Addiction Act to be passed by Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2008.

Four years later, mental health proponents, who rejoiced at the law that required insurance providers to treat mental health on an equal basis with physical illnesses, are still waiting for the law to take full effect.

The drawn out legislative success of 2008 came years after Wellstone’s death and was co-sponsored by Sen. Pete Domenici, R-New Mexico. It was a personal passion for the two senators, one that crossed party lines. Both of them had first-hand knowledge of the ravages mental illness could inflict on families.

Rep. Jim Ramstad, R-Minn. had championed the bipartisan bill in the House and termed it as his most important accomplishment before leaving Congress in 2008.

What’s now needed for this long-sought parity is for the Obama administration to complete the permanent regulations for mental health parity. Negotiations have been going on with mental health experts, advocates and insurance industry officials.

The painstakingly slow process was a surprise to David Wellstone who witnessed his late father’s belated Senate victory in person four years ago.

“Everyone was looking up at the Senate gallery and it was like ‘We did it!’” David Wellstone told the Star Tribune of Minneapolis recently. “I had no clue. Now I’m just damn frustrated. It’s time and we’re going to get it done.”

Mental illness issues are by no means the sole reason for gun violence in this nation but increasing access to mental health treatment is a worthwhile cause on many fronts.

Frustrations often abound when good-intentioned citizens take their causes to lawmakers. Let’s hope the remaining bureaucratic obstacles can be overcome quickly and the dream of Wellstone and others will be fully realized.

— Mike O’Rourke

Mike O'Rourke
Mike O'Rourke began his career at the Brainerd Dispatch in 1978 as a general assignment reporter. He was named city editor in 1981 and associate editor in 1999. He covers politics and writes features and editorials.
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