Pete Domenici’s Mental Health Bill

October 10th, 2008 | Sources: Wall Street Journal

As part of last week’s bailout legislation, Congress passed a bill requiring insurers to provide mental health benefits equivalent to those for physical illness.

It would not have happened without Pete Domenici, the 76 year old Republican from New Mexico who will retire soon due to a progressive neurologic disease.

Domenici’s interest in mental health policy began after his daughter was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He spent time with parents in similar circumstances and heard tales of financial ruin resulting from inadequate insurance.

In 1996, Domenici stood before his Senate brethren to announce “now is the time” to pass mental health parity legislation. The bill passed the Senate easily and was folded in to a larger legislative package. It was then dropped during negotiations with the House, which had been lobbied by insurance companies.

Domenici then had to shelve the cause for years because his fellow Republicans controlled the House and opposed the bill. Another tragic setback occurred when, in 2002, co-sponsor Paul Wellstone (D-Min) was killed in a plane crash.

The bill picked up steam again in 2004 but it took 4 more years before Domenici had a passable bill with teeth.

Remarkably, a week before the bill passed, Domenici wasn’t sure if it would. “Either it happens or it doesn’t,” he told the Wall Street Journal. “I’ve done the best I could. This is a tough one that should have been easy.”


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