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Presidential Candidate Gore Unveils Mental Health Reform Proposal - Endorses Parity For Children


For Immediate Release, June 1, 2000
Contact: Chris Marshall
703-524-7600



At a rally in suburban Washington, DC yesterday, Vice President Gore and his wife Tipper put forward a package of policy initiatives to improve services for individuals with mental illnesses and their families and to require all health insurance plans to provide parity for coverage for children. As was widely reported in the press, this package of proposals is part of candidate Gore's domestic policy platform. During yesterday's hour-long meeting, the Vice President and Ms. Gore heard from a number of parents of children with severe mental illnesses about the difficult issue of parents being forced to relinquish custody of their children in order for them to access treatment.

Included below is NAMI's statement applauding the Vice President's proposals and calling on leaders in Congress for bipartisan action this year on parity legislation - specifically, the Domenici-Wellstone parity bill (S 796).

The full text of the Gore campaign's statement, as well as a webcast of his speech can be found at the campaign's website at http://www.algore2000.com/briefingroom/releases/pr_0531_nat_1.html

What is in Candidate Gore's Mental Health Agenda

The childrens' parity proposal is the centerpiece of the Vice President's initiative. According to the Vice President's staff, this proposal is meant to build on the progress already made toward ending insurance discrimination including: a) the 31 state parity laws, b) the 1996 Mental Health Parity Act (parity for annual and lifetime dollar limits only), and c) President's Clinton's Executive Order requiring parity for all federal employees. However, the Gore proposal does not include endorsement of S 796, Senator Domenici and Senator Wellstone's parity bill that now has 28 bipartisan Senate cosponsors.

S 796 calls for full parity for all of the most severe and disabling mental illness, including many of the most prevalent diagnoses among children and adolescents such as bipolar disorder, major depression, obsessive-compulsive disorders, autism, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In addition, S 796 requires parity coverage for adolescent onset schizophrenia. As NAMI's statement on the Gore initiative makes clear, S 796 is the most promising legislative vehicle in 2000 for achieving full parity and an end to insurance discrimination.

Candidate Gore's initiative also includes an unspecified proposal to address the problem of families having to relinquish custody of their children with severe mental illness in order to qualify them for public programs such as Medicaid, in order access treatment residential care settings. This issue was first highlighted in NAMI's 1999 report "Families on the Brink" which can be viewed at http://www.nami.org/youth/brinktoc.html The Vice President noted that increasing intensive community-based services and expanding coverage for children will help many families avoid the painful choices they must often make to access treatment for their children. At the same time, the Vice President stopped short of specifically endorsing legislation drafted by Senators Grassley and Kennedy - the Family Opportunity Act (S 2274) - that would allow states to set up Medicaid buy-in programs that permit parents to qualify their children for services without having to go into poverty, or give up custody. NAMI has enthusiastically endorsed S 2274.

A number of other initiatives in the Gore proposal clarify protections for families in existing laws or previous Clinton Administration proposals. For example, candidate Gore proposes to clarify eligibility for the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to ensure that family members can take unpaid time off from work (limited to 12 weeks), without losing their job, to care for a relative suffering from mental illness. Gore has proposed to lower the existing small business exemption in the FMLA from 50 to 25 workers. The Vice President also proposes to clarify eligibility for the Clinton Administration's $3,000 long-term care tax credit to include individuals caring for a relative with severe mental illness at home.

Beyond the childrens' parity proposal, there are a number of provisions in the Gore initiative that NAMI has championed in recent years including:

  • increased funding for the PATH program (community-based services for homeless people with mental illness),

  • new funding with requirements for states to invest their Mental Health Block Grant dollars in evidence-based approaches to community care such as the Program for Assertive Community Treatment (PACT) and develop new accountability systems (part of NAMI's Omnibus Mental Illness Recovery Act, OMIRA),

  • protections to ensure access and coverage for new atypical anti-psychotic medications,

  • training for teachers and primary care physicians to recognize the symptoms of mental illness and refer individuals to appropriate treatment,

  • increased funding for mental illness research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH),

  • expansion of the current protection and advocacy program (PAIMI) to allow P&A agencies to serve individuals with mental illness in the community,

  • enactment of a Patient's Bill of Rights, and

  • new confidentiality protections for medical records.

Many of the proposals in candidate Gore's mental health initiative are contained in the bipartisan Mental Health Early Intervention, Treatment and Prevention Act of 2000 (S 2639), introduced last week by Senators Domenici and Kennedy. More detail on S 2639 is available on the NAMI website at http://www.nami.org/policy.htm (NAMI E-News, May 26, 2000, Vol.00-138).

NAMI Press Release: NAMI Applauds Vice-President Gore's Mental Health Initiative

 

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