The one-year anniversary of the death of Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.), who died in a plane crash on Oct 25, 2002, has renewed pressure for passage of the mental health parity bill he championed in the Senate.
The bill?s sponsors sent a letter Tuesday to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, M.D., (R-Tenn.) requesting that he schedule time this week to take up and pass the legislation. The letter notes that the AMA, the American Psychiatric Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics are among the groups that support action "to ensure fair mental health coverage."
"This legislation has 66 co-sponsors," says Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), speaking at a news conference Thursday. "And effectively, we've passed it at other times."
Introduced in February, the Mental Health Equitable Treatment Act of 2003 (S 486) would require health plans to impose treatment limitations and financial requirements for mental health coverage equal to those for medical and surgical coverage. The bill awaits action by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
"It is basically a question whether the leadership is going to listen to the insurance companies, that talk about how this is going to raise insurance premiums," Kennedy says.
In a speech on the Senate floor today, Sen. Mark Dayton (D-Minn.) says Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), a long-time champion of the original legislation with Wellstone, told Dayton he is optimistic that the bill will be considered by the HELP Committee within the next two weeks.
If Senate leadership chooses not to schedule a vote on the bill this year, Kennedy says Democrats will add the measure as an amendment to a continuing resolution.
"It is unacceptable, when we have two-thirds of the members of the United States Senate, not to have an opportunity to vote on it," he says.