Thursday, March 06, 2008

Eating Disorders Awareness Helps Mental Health Parity Pass in House Vote


MARCH 6 2008

CONTACT MARC LERRO, 202-543-9570

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.

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.”


The Eating Disorders Coalition for Research, Policy & Action is working in Washington, D.C., to increase awareness, educate policymakers, and promote understanding about the disabling and life-threatening effects of eating disorders. Our mission is to advance the federal recognition of eating disorders as a public health priority.

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