What Wellstone would do

With strict guidelines, the mental illness bill will help keep America healthy.

The U.S. House is set to pass a bill that would continue the legacy of late Sen. Paul Wellstone and require insurance companies to cover mental illness in the same manner they would treat physical ailment.

The bill would let the medical community define what should be covered rather than leaving it up to insurance companies.

Under pressure from business and insurance lobbyists, the Senate passed a watered down version of the bill last year, giving insurers more leniency in deciding which mental conditions are covered. We hope to see the new, stricter legislation pass in the Senate, and that members of the Minnesota delegation support it. It remains to be seen whether the bill can withstand fierce lobbying efforts.

The bill has received wide support in the House, and if that chamber is serious about compromising with the Senate, the final bill should be specific about how doctors and researchers will set cohesive guidelines about what constitutes a mental illness and what treatments are feasible within insurance structures.

With the human mind, it’s extremely difficult to classify every sort of mental illness and the appropriate treatment. Over-diagnosis or miss-diagnosis of mental illness could lead to gauging expenses and an over-medicated population. But mental illnesses like depression are very real, and low-income workers deserve the same access to treatment.

Doctors are often courted by pharmaceutical companies looking to hand out prescriptions for their new drugs. Limiting their reach within the medical community and offering incentives to doctors with clean, “pharm-free” records will be imperative to ensure those who need treatment receive it for their specific needs, not the needs of drug companies.

Mental illness treatments have helped millions lead better lives. If properly diagnosed, the bill will help people receive necessary treatments that they would not be able to afford otherwise.

On the eve of a new administration that will propose sweeping health-care reform, we hope to see this bill or a bill similar pass in the Senate, and give all working Americans a greater chance to access mental health.