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House Passes Mental Health Parity Act

The House passed a mental health parity bill on Wednesday night, completing work on a measure first taken up over a decade ago by the late Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.).

The Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equality Act -- which would require insurance companies to cover mental illnesses the same way they do physical ones -- passed 268 to 148. Earlier in the day, the bill’s sponsors held a rally on the steps of the Capitol with House Democratic leaders, former first lady Rosalynn Carter and Wellstone’s son David.

The bill is a deeply personal one for sponsors Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), who has admitted to suffering from bipolar disorder and Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.), a recovering alcoholic who says he has not taken a drink in 25 years. “This is a huge day for me,” David Wellstone said after the rally. “I have been working on this since [my father’s death in a] plane crash. It is a really momentous occasion.”

Although the Senate has passed its own version of the bill, several key differences need to be worked out before it can be sent to the president’s desk, with the House bill offering stronger mandates on how insurers must cover mental health treatment.