U.S. Reps. Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.) and Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) won passage of legislation requiring health insurance companies to cover mental illnesses just as they cover physical ailments. The House on Tuesday approved the Sen. Paul Wellstone Mental Health Equitable Treatment Act by a vote of 376 to 47. Senate Democratic leaders attached the compromise bill to a larger tax bill, which the Senate might consider as early as Tuesday evening.
For Ramstad and Kennedy, the legislation is deeply personal.
Ramstad sought treatment for alcoholism early in his political career while Kennedy has struggled with bipolar disorder and drugs and alcohol. After Kennedy crashed his car into a police barrier at 2:45 a.m. in 2006, Ramstad befriended the son of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and encouraged him to seek treatment.
For Ramstad, a nine-term lawmaker who is retiring at year’s end, the bill’s passage cements his legacy. He labored for 12 years to pass the bill and, at times, he grew frustrated with the previous House Republican leadership for not acting on the bill.
“Our leadership refused to recognize the overwhelming empirical data. Ideology trumped personal pain and suffering,” Ramstad told The Hill newspaper in 2007.
President Bush promised in 2002 to sign a mental health parity bill at an event in New Mexico with Sen. Pete Domenici, a Republican, whose daughter suffers from schizophrenia.
“Our health insurance system must treat serious mental illness like any other disease,” Bush said at the time.