This morning there was a rally to support parity (background here) on Capitol Hill. Speakers from Congress included Senator Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who took over as the lead Senate negotiator after Senator Kennedy (D-Mass.) left Washington to receive treatment for a brain tumor several months ago, Majority Whip Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who held a parity field hearing in Montgomery County, Maryland in early 2007, and Rep. Pete Stark (D-Ca.), who helped pass a compromise that will phase in parity for mental health co-payments under Medicare. There was a physician from Bethesda Naval Medical Hospital (who pointed out that the Los Angeles County Jail is the nation's largest mental health system), a woman whose parents had to mortgage their house to pay for her mental healthcare, and David Wellstone, son of the late Senator from Minnesota who introduced the first insurance parity bill.
Reps. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) and Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.) also spoke at the rally (Kennedy emceed, in fact). The event this morning reminded me that we as addiction treatment and recovery advocates could not be luckier than to have champions like Reps. Kennedy and Ramstad. (In the interest of full disclosure, Rep. Kennedy won NAADAC's President's Award in 2007, and Rep. Ramstad won it in 2008.) They started this congressional session by hosting over a dozen field hearings across the country, wrote and introduced the strong and consumer-friendly House parity bill (HR 1424), which has helped make the final compromise bill far more treatment-friendly than it would have been otherwise, pushed the bill through an intimidating three committees of jurisdiction (each of which held subcommittee hearings, subcommittee "mark-ups," where amendments are offered, and full committee mark-ups), and ultimately to bipartisan passage in the House. And throughout the process, both Reps. Kennedy and Ramstad used their inspiring personal stories of addiction and recovery to fight stigma and spread the message that treatment saves lives.
Passage of a history-making bill like parity is never possible without the fervent support of large numbers of grassroots supporters, professional advocates, experts in the field, congressional staff, and many others. However, it also requires the steadfast support and commitment of champions in Congress like Representatives Patrick Kennedy and Jim Ramstad.