Legislation for mental health and addiction parity hits snag

Congressional efforts thus far to win passage of legislation to avert a worsening of the nation’s financial crisis have overshadowed another serious and growing emergency: the lack of mental health and addiction parity in insurance coverage.

This crisis also awaits an eleventh-hour congressional rescue plan. In response, the House and Senate have already overwhelmingly passed an identical rescue package — one that would help avert widespread suffering worsened by the economic crisis — but are at loggerheads on a legislative vehicle for sending their plan to the president. Without rescue, it may fail.

This straightforward plan — the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act — is long overdue. But legislative failure has life-and-death implications in a country where more than 32,000 Americans take their lives and over 22,000 Americans die from drug overdoses each year.

Parity legislation isn’t aimed at Wall Street, but at working Americans. This bill directly protects millions of Americans who have been facing a crisis in their own healthcare for decades. This legislation would shore up their health insurance coverage by outlawing the discriminatory barriers that deny millions of people access to needed mental health and addiction care.

Earlier this year, House and Senate negotiators reached a historic policy agreement on the effort begun years ago by the late Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) and Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), and championed by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Reps. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) and Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.).

This bill will establish in law a comprehensive standard of equitable coverage — one that would make it unlawful to impose greater limits and higher out-of-pocket costs on mental health and addiction care than for treatment of other illnesses.

Millions of Americans have a crucial stake in Congress’s establishing fairness in mental health and addiction coverage. More than 200 national organizations — representing the business and insurance communities, educators, public health, families, children, healthcare providers, the faith community and many others — agree.

With so much at stake and unprecedented support, Americans cannot wait for some future Congress to adopt this fundamental rescue plan. The time is now!

Alexandria, Va.

David Wellstone is son of the late Sen. Paul Wellstone and David Shern is president and CEO of Mental Health America


Gov’t as stockholder

From Paul la Demain

The Hill’s Sept. 30 article “Soros floats alternative bailout plan with Dems” states:

Robert Shapiro, chairman of Sonecon, an economic advisory firm, who served as Commerce Department undersecretary during the Clinton administration, raised questions about Soros’s proposal.

He said that if the government bought stock in troubled firms, a problem would arise regarding how Uncle Sam would be represented as a shareholder.

“How does the government vote the shares?” he asked. “It puts them in a potential conflict of interest. Regulatory interests may hurt the bottom line.”

A blind trust is the solution. If it works for elected officials (they expect that we the people would accept that the trust erects a wall between their votes and their personal interests), then a blind trust will work equally well for the government entity that is formed to own stock in the “troubled firms.” And the trustees of the blind trust must be disinterested parties, independent of the government, the politicians and the firms. The shares would of course be held in the trust.

Campbell, Calif.