U.S. Senator Al Franken (D. MN) is pushing hard to make progressive legend, Senator Paul Wellstone's (D. MN) signature legislation, the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, a reality:
Franken wrote about Wellstone's legacy to expand mental health coverage in an article for the Atlantic last year. Franken discusses the fight Wellstone went through to get his bill enacted:With the nation reeling over the shootings of elementary school students by a deranged gunman in Newtown, Conn., Wellstone's family and friends say they are close to completing his mission of expanding coverage for people with mental health or substance abuse problems.
Wellstone's Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2008. But that turned out to be only the beginning of a protracted regulatory battle to refine its enforcement mechanisms.A symbol of that fight is the black-and-white photograph of the liberal DFL icon that occupies a prominent place above Sen. Al Franken's desk. Following in Wellstone's footsteps, Franken took the lead in pressing the Obama administration to make final requirements that would force insurance companies to cover mental health and behavioral treatments the same way they do with medical and surgical services. - Star Tribune, 2/3/13
Franken has been aided by Wellstone's son, David, to have Wellstone's bill fully implemented. They argue that Wellstone's bill has no real teeth unless President Obama completes the long-stalled regulations needed to fully enforce it:The big fights -- war and peace, justice and liberty -- are important. But there aren't any small fights. And where Paul made the biggest impact -- where his work resulted in the greatest improvement of people's lives -- was on issues that don't usually lead anyone's stump speech: mental health, domestic violence, homelessness among veterans.
Paul's brother, Stephen, had struggled with mental illness since he was 19. And Paul knew that many people who suffered from mental health problems were forced to suffer all over again because their insurance companies wouldn't cover the treatments they needed. Paul's own parents spent 20 years paying down the bill for Stephen's treatment.
So he found a Republican with a similar first-hand understanding of the problem, New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici, and the two introduced legislation that would require insurance companies to treat mental health the same way they did physical health. Paul didn't live to see mental health parity become law -- but it did (thanks in large part to another Republican colleague, Minnesota's Jim Ramstad), and that crusade has improved, even saved, millions of lives. - The Atlantic, 10/25/13
Ever since taking office in 2009, Franken has sought to have Wellstone's bill fully implemented. He even referenced Wellstone with his Democratic colleagues while they work to create comprehensive gun control:Some of the provisions are still in dispute, but a White House official says a final rule can be expected "later this year" as part of a passel of executive orders to be signed by Obama in response to the Newtown massacre.
Obama can issue a directive to finish the rules on mental health parity without any action by Congress, unlike his push to ban assault weapons and to tighten background checks for weapon purchases.
Instead, with only provisional regulations in place, the administration has spent years negotiating with experts, advocates and industry officials to craft workable, permanent regulations for administering the complex law. - Star Tribune, 2/3/13
Franken has used the shooting at Sandy hook Elementary School as a prime argument for more access to mental health care. On January 31st, Franken introduced a bill that helps expand Wellstone's bill known as the Mental Health In Schools Act of 2013:Franken has taken up the call in the Senate along with a package of legislation aimed at improving access to mental health services in schools and in the criminal justice system.
"Paul Wellstone ... never stopped fighting for better access to mental health and substance use disorder services," Franken told a House Democratic gun violence prevention task force last week. "Since I got into the Senate, I've been fighting for full implementation of the law that bears his name. ... I'm hopeful it's finally going to happen." - Star Tribune, 2/3/13
Here's what the act calls for:Franken introduced a bill (S 195) Jan. 31 that is designed to increase students’ access to mental-health services in schools, even as budget constraints may be causing states to pull back those resources. Although the American School Counselor Association recommends a ratio of one school counselor for every 250 students, a summary provided by Franken’s office noted that the national average was one per every 471 students in the 2010-11 school year. - Roll Call, 1/31/13
The Mental Health in Schools Act would establish a grant program that would:Franken's act has been co-sponsored by Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Mary Ladrieu (D-La.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Jon Tester (D-Mont.). You can read more about the bill here:
Expand access to mental health services in schools;
Support schools that work with community-based organizations to expand access to mental health services for students;
Provide assistance through grants to schools to train staff, volunteers, families, and other members of the community to recognize the signs of behavioral health problems in students and refer them for appropriate services; and
Authorize $200 million in grant funding per year over five years, and eligible schools may apply for up to $1 million per grant year, based on the size of their student population.
It has been endorsed by several educational institutions in Minnesota as well as mental health facilities and services in Minnesota.
Franken is true blue about wanting to make Wellstone's legacy a reality. Franken himself is also driven by personal experiences to push for more access to mental health services:
Now Franken has also voiced his support for gun control and a ban on assault weapons but is also being careful not to stigmatize those with mental health issues:Franken said his interest in mental-health issues stems partly from family history, and he noted that he has written a couple of movies about alcoholism, including co-writing “When a Man Loves a Woman.” An ad released during his Senate campaign featured his wife describing her battle with alcohol dependency. - Roll Call, 1/31/13
I for one am proud of Franken for continuing to fight to make a progressive idol's goal to expand access to mental health care. Franken just might be our generations Paul Wellstone and we need to keep him in the Senate. In his article for the Atlantic, Franken brought up a great quote by Wellstone we should all remember:At today’s hearing, Franken tried to stop that train of thinking in its tracks. The senator acknowledged the need for a stronger mental health safety net while also pointing out that Americans with mental illness are not actually prone to violence:
FRANKEN: I have supported funding for law enforcement programs and I work every day to carry out the work Paul Wellstone does to repair our mental health system. Tomorrow I will introduce the Mental Health In Schools Act, which will improve access to mental health care for kids. Catching these issues at an early age is really important. I want to be careful here — that we don’t stigmatize mental illness. The vast majority of people with mental illness are no more violent than the rest of the population. In fact, they are more likely to be the victims of violence. These recent events have caused us as a nation to scrutinize our failed mental health care system and I’m glad we’re talking about this in a serious way.
The statistics clearly support Franken’s argument — over 92 percent of Americans with mental disorders do not engage in violent behavior. The ones who do tend to be violent towards themselves. - 1/30/13
Sounds to me like Franken is abiding by Wellstone's words with his bill. Donate to Al's re-election campaign so he can continue to make Wellstone's dream a reality:"Politics is not about power. Politics is not about money. Politics is not about winning for the sake of winning. Politics is about the improvement of people's lives." - The Atlantic, 10/25/12
P.S. Sorry for the delay. Today's my Birthday.