Since the 1990s, legislators in Congress have been pursuing the end of discrimination for people with mental illness by health insurance companies and employers. Even after they passed historic legislation (at the time) in 1996 to end this discrimination, health insurance companies found ways to subvert the intent of the bill and still discriminate against the people they covered if they had a mental health issue.

On Friday, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the $700 billion bailout bill (263 to 171), which included the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008. This Act (which we reported on earlier), a compromise that’s been years in the making, mandates that all employers with more than 50 employees offer mental health coverage that’s comparable to their physical health benefits. With Senate approval on Wednesday, the bill becomes law upon President Bush’s signature.

This means that for 110 million Americans, their health insurance will now be required to offer benefits and coverage of their mental health concerns at a level equal to that of physical concerns. Insurance companies will no longer be legally allowed to limit outpatient visits for psychotherapy (unless they do so already for other doctor’s visits).

We applaud Congress and the tireless work of Sen. Pete Domenici, the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, Sen. Edward Kennedy, Sen. Mike Enzi, among dozens of others, who never gave up hope of getting this historic piece of legislation passed.

We are relieved that finally, one more discriminatory and stigmatizing practice by the “free market” has been extinguished. It gives us hope that more government bodies and private corporations will follow and recognize that mental illness is just as real and has just as significant impact on the workplace as any physical illness or disability. We hope insurance companies and employers don’t find a new loophole or another way around providing equal coverage and treatment for people with mental illness.