Thursday, March 6, 2008

Eating Disorders Awareness Helps Mental Health Equity Bill Pass in the House

Press Release from the Eating Disorders Coalition, 03/06/08

Eating disorders were front and center in the debate leading to
yesterday’s passage of mental health parity in the U.S. House of
Representatives. The House passed the parity bill by a vote of
268 to 148.

The House version of a national mental health parity bill
includes broad definitions of mental illness that would include
eating disorders. A Senate bill passed last year offers fewer
protections but is likely to become the final version that
Congress will send for the president’s signature. The Eating
Disorders Coalition has supported both House and Senate versions,
but prefers the House bill.

Yesterday’s action in the House marks the first time in 12 years
that mental health parity has been brought to a vote. House
Speaker Nancy Pelosi agreed to schedule a vote, reversing the long-
held opposition of former House Speaker Dennis Hastert. The EDC
was in the front row during yesterday’s rally at the Capitol.
Speakers included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority
Leader Steny Hoyer, Rep. Jim Ramstad, Rep. Patrick Kennedy,
former first lady Rosalynn Carter, and David Wellstone. The
audience included singer-songwriter Carole King and U.S. Senate
candidate Al Franken.

Since the beginning of the 110th Congress, the Eating Disorders
Coalition and other mental health advocates have had numerous
opportunities to bring the issue to the attention of
congressional committees. EDC President Kitty Westin testified in
Congress and spoke at a parity rally with Speaker Pelosi in 2007,
recalling the loss of her daughter after the family’s insurance
company denied treatment for Anna Westin’s eating disorder.

EDC Executive Director Marc Lerro says, “We made our points so
often that members of Congress started making our points for us.
In committee meetings, Republicans and Democrats alike described
how parity could affect people with eating disorders.”

David Wellstone, founder of Wellstone Action, campaigned
aggressively for the passage of the House bill. He often cited
eating disorders as an example of mental health conditions that
may not be fully covered under the weaker Senate bill. Wellstone
was critical of the Senate bill and refused to allow the bill to
be named in memory of his father, the late Senator Paul

Wellstone told National Public Radio’s Julie Rovner, “My dad
always believed that you can’t leave people out. You can’t have
people like Kitty Westin, who was his friend and my friend, who’s
daughter had an eating disorder and went in and was told ‘we have
to figure out if this is a medical necessity.’”

During a national speaking tour in support of parity, members of
Congress in several major cities appeared with speakers who had
first-hand experience with eating disorders. In Washington, D.C.,
the EDC hosted educational briefings and sent mailings that also
kept the issue before policymakers at the Capitol. Last week, the
Coalition hosted a briefing in the House of Representatives
titled “Eating Disorders: From Stigma to Science,” which drew a
capacity bipartisan audience.

Next, negotiations between the House and Senate must close the
gap between the two bills before a final piece of legislation can
be sent to the president. Rep. Kennedy is willing to compromise.
He told NPR, “I’m not an all-or-nothing person. I want something,
and then I can add to it next year, and the year after, and the
year after that. That’s the way Congress works. I’ve watched my
father over the years. I’ve taken lessons.”

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