Today in a bill before us, we have the opportunity to be that energy leader, and we also have a chance to be a better leader in the area of health care, where we have come up short for far too long. And I’m referring to the mental health parity bill that is included in this package. We tried to pass this through the senate over and over again. These efforts predate my time in the senate, and they continue to this day. My friend and our former colleague, the Senator from Minnesota, Paul Wellstone, fought for this law as a matter of justice and fairness. Senator Domenici, on the other side of the aisle, was right there with him and has continued to press for this legislation.
Senator Kennedy has been a champion for this legislation. Senator Durbin. And in the house there's Patrick Kennedy and one of my favorite republican congressmen, Jim Ramstad from Minnesota. He stepping down this year and doesn't want to leave until this bill gets done. As Paul Wellstone always insisted, a mental health parity bill is about equality and fairness. It’s also about human dignity.
Although much has changed over the years, people who suffer from mental illness continue to suffer from a deep social stigma, something that can be just as challenging to live with as their illness. Their families suffer too. This legislation isn't just about health insurance. It’s also about eliminating the stigma and infirming the dignity of Americans who suffer from this mental illness or an addiction.
Paul knew about this and cared about this because of his brother, Steven, who had a mental illness. He was hospitalized. His family was thrown into debt, and Paul would often talk about how during those years there was a darkness in their home. Paul’s brother eventually got proper treatment and secured his dignity at great cost to their family. Paul didn't want anyone else to go through what their family went through. He also cared about this bill because he always cared about the underdog, the person who seemed like there was nothing else there for them. And that is what Paul Wellstone was about, putting those people first in the halls of the senate.
Whenever I walk through the senate and say I’m the Senator from Minnesota, I hear stories from other Senators about Paul. But the stories that I remember most are those I hear from the secretaries in the front offices, or the tram drivers or the police officers that guard the front of the capitol. They too tell me about Paul and how good he was to them and how he treated them with respect. That’s what Paul brought to this job. That’s why he cared so much about this legislation.
In 1995, Minnesota enacted a mental health parity law that is among the strongest in the nation. In the past 10 to 15 years, other states have enacted some version of mental health parity. The problem is that despite these state laws, 82 million Americans do not benefit because their employer' self-insurance plans come under the jurisdiction of the Federal Employee Retirement Security Act. It’s time for them to receive the same protection as Americans whose insurance does not come under FERSA.
I think about the legendary Supreme Court justice, Justice Brandeis, who had a favorite saying about states being the laboratories of democracy. He said it is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory and try novel, social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country. But Justice Brandeis didn't mean that novel, social and economic experiments must forever stay at the state level. If an experiment is successful at the state level, especially in many states, then it may very well be something that should be taken up on a larger national scale. Mental health parity has proven its value in state after state.
Now it is time to take this well-tested innovation to the national level so our country has a uniform, equal standard of mental health parity that applies to self-insurance plans under the jurisdiction of FERSA. There are so many good reasons for our nation to have a mental health parity law: economic reasons, health reasons, criminal justice reasons and reasons of basic fairness and human dignity. For me, there is one special reason why we must pass this legislation. That reason is Paul Wellstone. This legislation is about everything he stood for, about fighting for people who didn't have power and didn't have a voice. People, who would rather hide than speak up because of the stigma and the shame, people who needlessly suffered because of discrimination and prejudice. This bill is about Paul. It's about his brother Steven.
It's about his family, and it's about his determination to help bring justice and dignity to millions of Americans who live in the shadow of mental illness. When Paul was alive, many people in this chamber said that they wanted to pass this bill. And when Paul died, they said they wanted to pass this bill. Well, the time has come to pass this bill. Senator Kennedy, home watching everything that goes on in this chamber, wants to get this done. Before he retired, Jim Ramstad wants to get this done. And Paul Wellstone’s sons have been here day after day, walking the halls of the capitol, knocking on doors trying to do this for their father's memory. We have waited too long. Madam President, we have the opportunity to finally get this bill into law. It is an opportunity to put aside all the excuses and instead to put front and center all the many good reasons were this law will serve our nation well. I hope when this vote comes up today, that this bill will pass and it will pass by a large margin. It is a tribute to Paul and all the people that have waited for so long to get their dignity.