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National Alliance on Mental Illness
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NAMI Calls On Governor Johnson To End Discrimination Against People With Mental Illnesses


Contact:
Mary Rappaport 703/312-7886
Valerie Rheinstein 703/516-7963
For Immediate Release
20 Feb 98

ARLINGTON, VA - In a letter delivered this morning, the nation's leading advocacy organization for individuals with mental illnesses and their families urged New Mexico Governor Johnson to sign legislation that will begin to reverse long-standing health insurance discrimination against those struck with chronic and severely debilitating brain disorders, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression.

"You have a unique opportunity to offer a lifeline to thousands of New Mexico families dealing with the challenges of severe, biologically based, mental illness," wrote Laurie Flynn, executive director of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), in the letter to Johnson. "No one expects to be struck by one of these mental illnesses, but the truth is 1 in 5 families will. You, by your signature, will see that many more of your fellow statesmen will find adequate insurance coverage in place when they are faced with such an illness."

Working with representatives of the insurance industry and small business organizations, members of NAMI New Mexico crafted a bill that proposes a two-year pilot program to provide equitable mental health benefits for state employees. This pilot will gather crucial data that will enable New Mexico to make an informed decision regarding the fiscal sensibility and fairness of parity legislation for its citizens. This measure (HB 315) enjoyed widespread bipartisan support, with Senate and House members passing it with overwhelming majorities.

New Mexico is breaking new ground in building a secure future for people who at one time thought there was no future," said Flynn in a separate statement. "We applaud New Mexico's courageous leaders, especially Representative Ed Sandoval, for validating in legislation what researchers have proven in science - mental illnesses are physical disorders of the brain and treatment works."

With more than 172,000 members, NAMI is the nation's leading grassroots organization solely dedicated to improving the lives of persons with severe mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness), major depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and anxiety disorders. NAMI has more than 1,140 state and local affiliates in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Canada.

FULL LETTER TEXT FOLLOWS:

February 19, 1998

The Honorable Governor Gary E. Johnson
400 State Capitol
Santa Fe, NM 87501

Dear Governor Johnson:

You have a unique opportunity to offer a lifeline to thousands of New Mexico families dealing with the challenges of severe, biologically based, mental illness.

Yesterday, Senate lawmakers in New Mexico voted overwhelmingly for landmark legislation that will begin to correct a major injustice in health insurance: the refusal of many insurers to cover severe mental illnesses - which we now know are neurobiologically based brain disorders - the same way they cover other biologically based physical illnesses.

This measure (HB 315) has enjoyed widespread bipartisan support, with House members earlier passing it with an overwhelming majority.

Leading national mental health advocates, including myself, and hundreds of NAMI members in New Mexico worked in partnership with the insurance industry and small business organizations to craft a mutually agreed upon bill which proposes a crucial two-year pilot program to provide equitable mental health benefits for state employees. This pilot will gather crucial data that will enable New Mexico to make an informed decision regarding the fiscal sensibility and fairness of parity legislation for its citizens.

Many individuals with severe mental illnesses and their families in New Mexico have volunteered long hours to educate legislators about the true nature of these chronic and debilitating disorders. They have shared what they have learned through first-hand experience: that mental illnesses are brain disorders and that treatment works. Accompanying this letter, we are providing you with information that demonstrates the affordability of health insurance parity and describes some of the tremendous scientific breakthroughs that have occurred. Included are:

1.Rand Corporation Study conducted by the UCLA/RAND Center for Research on Managed Care for Psychiatric Disorders;

2.National Advisory Mental Health Council's Interim Report on Parity Costs requested by the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee;

3.Lewin Study, survey of 11 out of 18 insurance carriers in New Hampshire;

4.Mercer Study, over 300 businesses polled by William M. Mercer, Inc., one of the nation's leading human resources consulting organizations;

5.Science and treatment video produced by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in conjunction with the National Institute of Mental Health.

I take a special personal interest in this landmark piece of legislation because my dear friend and one of NAMI's most distinguished members, United States Senator Pete Domenici, successfully carried to passage the National Mental Health Parity Act of 1996. Like myself, he has a family member who struggles daily with a biological brain disorder. Senator Domenici and I look forward to the day when his home state follows his remarkable lead in ensuring non-discriminatory care for others who have similar no-fault mental illnesses.

NAMI trusts that you will see the merits and urgent need for this bill and that you will sign it. The opposition warned of sky-rocketing costs, but could show no data whatsoever to support their claims. We cited actual data, which not only disproved their rhetoric, but further proved that providing adequate treatment up front makes fiscal good sense in future savings.

No one expects to be struck by one of these mental illnesses, but the truth is 1 in 5 families will. You, by your signature, will see that many more of your fellow statesmen will find adequate insurance coverage in place when they are faced with such an illness. You, by your signature, will ensure that passing HB 315 is not only the fair thing to do, but one of sound financial judgment. NAMI representatives and your state NAMI leaders are ready to meet with you to answer any questions you may have about this important measure.

Sincerely,

Laurie M. Flynn Executive Director

 

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