On March 5th, 2008, The Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 268 to 148.

This Databank Success tells the story of how the members of Wellstone Action helped to move this bill forward. Communication Director Elana Wolowitz, interviewed below, provided insight and background on the organization’s use of thedatabank’s nonprofit software to mobilize mental health activists and concerned citizens.

Mental Health Parity Needed

Illness: abnormal conditions of the body or mind that cause discomfort, dysfunction, or distress to the person afflicted or those in contact with the person. Based on that definition, one would assume that mental illness would be treated no differently than physical illness, but unfortunately that has not been the case in the U.S.

Often mental health treatment, even when covered by a person’s health insurance, was subject to arbitrary limits on coverage in comparison to treatment for a physical illness.

Having seen loved ones suffer from this lack of parity, the late Senator Paul Wellstone and his colleague, Senator Pete Domenci (R-MN) both felt a personal obligation to put an end to it. Together, they introduced the Mental Health Parity Act in 1992.

This legislation promised to end the practice of insurance companies discriminating against people suffering from mental illness. Senators Wellstone and Domenci worked for nearly a decade to get this bill passed.

A weakened version was passed by President Clinton in 1996, but the senators were unsatisfied with the specifics. A broader legislation, which would apply “full parity”, was re-introduced and while it passed both houses of congress in 2001, ultimately the Conference Committee only granted a one-year extension of the original bill. The same thing happened again one year later.

Shortly after Senator Wellstone’s death in 2002, the name was changed to The Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act. Despite seeing ample bi-partisan support, including public support from President Bush, the bill did not pass the 109th congress.

Enter Wellstone Action!

Wellstone Action, client of thedatabank, created The Wellstone Action Network to encourage their members nationwide to contact their legislators about various progressive issues. A significant effort of The Wellstone Action Network: The Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act. With arrival of new leadership in Congress, there was a renewed opportunity to get the bill to move.

On March 5th, 2008, The Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act passed the House of Representatives. Although there is still work to be done, Wellstone Action is thanking their members for their important role in helping to achieve this success.

I spoke with Elana Wolowitz, Communications Director at Wellstone Action, about the recent success and this is what she had to say:

1. What was your personal involvement with the campaign?
Since 2004, I have been responsible for generating grassroots pressure on members of Congress by contacting our members and asking them to fax, call, and visit with their representatives. I also organized rallies in five cities in 2004 during our cross-country trip with the Wellstone Green Bus in support of parity.

2. What was the grassroots strategy for this campaign and how did you use The Databank as a part of it?
During the four years we’ve been actively working on this campaign, Wellstone Action has employed several strategies to influence members of Congress to finally pass comprehensive mental health and addiction parity legislation in Senator Wellstone’s name. The most critical component of the strategy was to get our thousands of members to contact their representatives to leverage the necessary pressure to get the bill to move. We sent PowerMail emails to our members using The Databank, encouraging them to call their representative. We also, in the past, used The Databank to ask our members to send custom faxes to their Member’s offices.

3. How helpful do you think The Databank was in communicating with your members?
Certainly The Databank has been instrumental in allowing us to have broadcast communication with our thousands of members and the advocacy software module provided our members with an easy-to-use system for holding their representatives accountable.

4. What is your advice to other clients of ours trying to get legislation passed?
Technology can be a tremendous asset to grassroots advocacy, but don’t rely exclusively on it. If you are using the Advocacy Software Module, be sure to note how many people took action in each targeted district and call the representative with that information or use it in your work with the media. Sometimes it makes sense to send action alerts to your entire membership, but other times it makes more sense to target them specifically to an elected official’s district with a message that resonates with them. It’s still true in politics that the more personal contact, the more effective at passing legislation, so use your Databank to your advantage in promoting and organizing as much personal contact between your membership and the targeted elected officials as possible.

More information about The Databank and Wellstone Action!

The Databank is a comprehensive relationship management system designed for nonprofit organizations. It integrates a database , the Databank, which stores detailed information about each supporter or member, with powerful Modules and Power Tools to manage, communicate, and track personal interactions. Raising more money, recruiting volunteers, and sending out email action alerts are just a few capabilities of the Databank.

Wellstone Action! has been a long time client of thedatabank. By using their Databank, Wellstone Action developed and sustained relationships with their members, made their organization known to key decision makers, and most importantly, helped create positive social change.

UPDATE 10/7/08: On October 2, 2008, Congress passed the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008. The bill was included in the financial bailout package passed by the Senate.

“This bill is a major achievement, one I know my dad would be proud of,” said David Wellstone, co-founder of Wellstone Action. “This bill will go a long way to ease the pain and suffering of those with mental illness and addiction, and I am proud to have been part of this effort. It’s a great day.”

If you would like to see what The Databank can do for your organization, sign up for a free online demo.

For more information on Wellstone Action, visit www.wellstone.org

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