The struggle for federal parity legislation is moving toward a critical stage as members of the House-Senate Conference Committee on the FY 2002 Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill (HR 3061) prepare to meet. This Conference Committee, made up of two dozens senators and members of Congress, will be deciding whether or not to include full mental illness insurance parity legislation (S 543) in the final version of the bill that will be sent to the White House for President Bush's signature. Since the Conference Committee is expected to finish its work within the next 10 days to two weeks, time is of the essence for consumers and family members to deliver their message to Congress and the President.
Even though only two dozen members of Congress are on the Conference Committee on the Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill (HR 3061), every House member and senator is in a position to influence the outcome of the Senate parity amendment. House members not on the Conference Committee have the opportunity to advocate for parity on your behalf. They can do this by contacting both the leadership (Speaker Dennis Hastert, Majority Leader Dick Armey and Minority Leader Richard Gephardt) and the leaders of the Appropriations Committee (Chairman C.W. "Bill" Young, Subcommittee Chairman Ralph Regula and Ranking Minority Member David Obey). Likewise, all senators can influence the Conference Committee by contacting the leadership (Majority Leader Tom Daschle and Minority Leader Trent Lott) and leaders of the Appropriations Committee (Chairman Robert Byrd, Ranking Member Ted Stevens, Subcommittee Chairman Tom Harkin and Subcommittee Ranking Member Arlen Specter).
As noted in previous NAMI E-News messages, the following members will be serving on the Conference Committee:
House: Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Escondido, CA), Rosa DeLauro (D-New Haven, CT), Kay Granger (R-Ft. Worth, TX), Steny Hoyer (D-Greenbelt/Waldorf, MD), Ernest Istook (R-Oklahoma City, OK), Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-Chicago/Homewood, IL), Patrick Kennedy (D-Woonsocket/Newport, RI), Nita Lowey, (D-White Plains, NY), Dan Miller (R-Sarasota/Bradenton, FL), Anne M. Northup (R-Louisville, KY), David Obey (D-Superior/Wausau, WI), Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco, CA), John Peterson (R-State College, PA), Ralph Regula (R-Canton, OH), Don Sherwood (R-Scranton, PA), Roger Wicker (R-Tupelo, MS) and C.W. "Bill" Young (R-St. Petersburg, FL).
Senate: Robert Byrd (D-WV), Thad Cochran (R-MS), Larry Craig (R-ID), Mike DeWine (R-OH), Judd Gregg (R-NH), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Ernest Hollings (D-SC), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Daniel Inouye (D-HI), Herb Kohl (D-WI), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Harry Reid (D-NV), Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Ted Stevens (R-AK).
NAMI advocates in the states and congressional districts of these members of Congress are particularly urged to write and call in support of the Senate mental illness parity amendment.
Below is a sample letter that advocates are encouraged to adapt and use. It is important to note that because of the discovery of anthrax in several congressional office buildings, U.S. mail is not currently being accepted in members' Washington, DC offices. However, mail is being accepted in state and district offices - local addresses are available through each member of Congress's Web site (links available at www.house.gov) and in the Blue Pages of local phone books. In addition, members offices are accepting e-mail messages (note - when sending e-mail, make sure to include your street address so that the member's staff understands that you are a constituent). This information is also available through the "Write to Congress" link on the NAMI Policy website at www.nami.org/policy.htm.
I am writing to urge your support for the Wellstone-Domenici mental illness insurance parity amendment to the Labor-HHS Appropriations bill (HR 3061). As an individual living with mental illness/a family member of an individual living with mental illness, I strongly support this bipartisan effort to end insurance discrimination against mental illness treatment.
[add a brief, personal anecdote about your own experience with insurance discrimination or struggle to access coverage for treatment]
On October 30, the Senate attached mental illness parity legislation to HR 3061 by a unanimous vote. This important measure is based on the Mental Health Equitable Treatment Act (S 543), legislation that would expand the recently expired 1996 Mental Health Parity Act to full parity for mental illness treatment. S 543 has 65 Senate cosponsors and was favorably reported by the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee on August 1 by a 21-0 vote. This important legislation would prevent health plans from imposing terms and conditions on coverage for mental illness treatment that do not apply to all other diseases. As such, it is not a mandate of health insurance, but rather a coverage condition that simply calls for plans to put in place equitable treatment limitations and cost sharing requirements for all illnesses.
As Congress and the House-Senate Conference Committee on the Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill moves towards a vote on this landmark legislation, please remember that:
What's Wrong With This Picture?
When one is diagnosed with heart disease or diabetes, we expect our health plan to cover the treatment needed. That is why we have health insurance coverage - to pay for the treatment we hope we never need. Health insurers usually do the right thing and cover the treatment that is needed for almost every organ of the body - except the brain.
For many families living with mental illness, diseases of the brain, adequate insurance coverage is elusive. Typically, health plans offer minimal coverage for illnesses of the brain such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression. They often include strict limits on inpatient days and outpatient visits. These restrictions do not apply to illnesses like cancer, heart disease and diabetes. In addition, most health plans require higher copayments and deductibles that apply only to mental illness treatment.
In my view, this is discrimination plain and simple. This type of insurance discrimination is particularly unfair given recent advances in scientific research that a) demonstrate the biological basis of diseases such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression and b) that have resulted in the development of new treatments that are incredibly effective in addressing symptoms and restoring function. More importantly, insurance discrimination can lead to financial ruin for many families and result in a tremendous burden being shifted to taxpayers in the form of disability benefits and the costs associated with untreated mental illness (emergency room visits, homelessness, etc.).
Unfortunately, I know insurance discrimination first-hand. As an individual living with mental illness/family member of an individual living with mental illness, I have experienced what it is like to run up against unfair and arbitrary limits in coverage. [insert brief personal story].
What can be done about insurance discrimination against individuals with mental illness? Senators Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Paul Wellstone (D-MN) have developed a proposal that would require health plans to cover treatment for mental illness on the same terms and conditions as all other diseases. This "parity" proposal has passed the Senate and is now before a joint House-Senate committee that will soon determine whether or not it becomes law in 2001. Congressman/Congresswoman/Senator __________ should join Senators Domenici and Wellstone in supporting this measure in order to bring an end to insurance discrimination once and for all. The people of _________ County and the nation are counting on Congressman/Congresswoman/Senator ____________ to support passage of mental illness parity this year.