NAMI
National Alliance on Mental Illness
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March 21, 2002

New Roukema-Kennedy Bill Introduced in the House:
Education and the Workforce Committee Convenes Hearing

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.

ACTION REQUIRED

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:

  • mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and severe anxiety disorders are real illnesses of the brain,
  • treatment for mental illness works, if you can get it - treatment efficacy rates for most severe mental illnesses exceed those for heart disease and diabetes,
  • there is simply no scientific or medical justification for insurance coverage of mental illness treatment to be on different terms and conditions than other diseases,
  • discriminatory insurance coverage of mental illness bankrupts families and places a tremendous burden on taxpayers through suicide, homelessness and inappropriate "criminalization" of mental illness,
  • parity is affordable - the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the Senate-passed parity bill (HR 4066) would increase insurance premiums only 0.9% (a finding that is consistent with numerous previous studies that demonstrate how non-discriminatory coverage is economical and results in better treatment outcomes),
  • 34 states have enacted parity laws similar to current federal parity proposals, but even these laws offer no protection for workers and their families that receive coverage through self-insured ERISA plans.
HR 4066 is being sponsored by a bipartisan group led by Representatives Marge Roukema (R-NJ) and Patrick Kennedy (D-RI). Included among the original cosponsors are: Representatives Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Robert Ehrlich (R-MD), George Miller (D-CA), Charlie Norwood (R-GA), Jim Ramstad (R-MN), and Pete Stark (D-CA). NAMI members living their congressional districts are urged to contact them and thank each of them for their efforts to end insurance discrimination.Below is a statement from NAMI President Jim McNulty in support of HR 4066.

NAMI Supports Introduction of House Legislation to End Insurance Discrimination - Statement of Jim McNulty, National Board President, National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI)


House Education and the Workforce Committee Hearing

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.

 

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