In a move aimed at jump-starting action on mental illness insurance parity in the House of Representatives, a bipartisan coalition has introduced the Senate parity bill in the House. This new bill, HR 4066, is identical to S543, legislation that already has 65 Senate cosponsors and was approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee by a unanimous 21-0 vote last year. S543 also received unanimous endorsement from the full Senatelast October.
All NAMI advocates are strongly encouraged to contact their House members and urge them to cosponsor HR 4066, the new Roukema-Kennedy mental illness parity bill. All members of Congress can be reached by calling the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 or by visiting Write to Congress.
When contacting members of Congress about the need for parity and bringing an end to insurance discrimination against people with severe mental illnesses and their families, remind them:
NAMI Supports Introduction of House Legislation to End Insurance Discrimination - Statement of Jim McNulty, National Board President, National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI)
On March 13, the Employer-Employee Relations Subcommittee of the Education and the Workforce Committee held the first ever House hearing on mental illness parity. The lead witnesses to testify in favor of full parity at the federal level were Representatives Roukema and Kennedy. Among the Subcommittee members attending the hearing that spoke out in favor of parity were Representatives Rob Andrews (D-NJ) and Lynn Rivers (D-MI). Representative Rivers spoke movingly about her own treatment for bipolar disorder, noting that the medication she takes everyday allows her to serve as a member of Congress. She went on to detail the tragic consequences that occur when people are denied access to treatment.
Other witnesses at the hearing included: Kay Nystul (a psychiatric nurse with Wausau Insurance Company), Lee Dixon (an analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures, who reviewed the existing state parity laws), Jane Greenman (a Human Resources Executive with Honeywell International representing the ERISA Industry Committee or ERIC) and Henry Harbin, MD (the CEO of Magellan Behavioral Healthcare). Of these witnesses, Dr. Harbin provided the strongest testimony in support of parity, a fundamental protection that ought to exist in the insurance marketplace. By contrast, Ms. Greenman most aggressively attacked parity as a costly mandate on insurance plans that would lead many employers to drop mental health insurance altogether.
The full text of each witness's statement can be viewed at: http://edworkforce.house.gov/hearings/107th/eer/mhp31302/wl31302.htm
The sharpest exchanges during the hearing occurred between panel members in favor of parity and a representative of a major national organization opposed to parity. For example, Representative Andrews repeatedly asked Ms. Greenman to come forward with any data or studies published since 1996 that show parity increasing premiums more than 1%, which she was unable to do. Ms. Greenman was also unable to respond to Representative Andrews' question as to whether overall spending by health plans on treatment for mental illness has gone up or down over the past decade relative to overall health spending. Dr. Harbin noted that mental health spending has declined during this period as a percentage of health expenditures in the absence of a federal parity standard.
Finally, Representative Rivers was able to force Ms. Greenman to admit that ERIC knows of no other set of illnesses that are singled out for inferior coverage or that employers would consider dropping if a parity requirement were imposed. Representative Rivers then went on to note that in a voluntary system, few employees are willing to ask for parity level coverage given the stigma associated with mental illness.