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House Passes Equity Bill For Mental Health Coverage

Associated Press
Thursday, March 6, 2008

The House voted yesterday to require equal health insurance coverage for mental and physical illnesses when policies cover both.

The 268 to 148 roll call was cheered by advocates who have been fighting more than a decade for what has come to be called mental health parity.

Supporters said the measure would help end the stigma of mental illness and create greater access for people needing mental health and addiction treatment.

Opponents warned that it could drive up health-care costs and force some employers to drop coverage.

The Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act of 2007 was named for the late Democratic senator from Minnesota who championed the issue for years and who died in a 2002 plane crash.

"It's a historic step," said the late senator's son, David, 42. "It's a civil rights bill for people with mental illnesses and chemical addiction. It forces insurance companies to treat them as they treat others."

Forty-seven Republicans joined 221 Democrats in voting for the bill. Three Democrats and 145 Republicans voted against it.

The House vote sets the stage for talks with the Senate, which passed a narrower version of the bill last September with support from business and insurance groups.

The White House said it favors the Senate bill because it addresses the need to treat mental illnesses with the same urgency as physical illnesses but would not significantly raise health-care costs.

The House bill was sponsored by Reps. Patrick J. Kennedy (D-R.I.), who has battled depression, alcoholism and drug abuse, and Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.), a recovering alcoholic.

"It's about opening up the doors and ending the shadow of discrimination against the mentally ill," Kennedy said.

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