July 6, 2004
As soon as this week, the U.S. Senate is expected to take up legislation to require health plans to cover treatment for mental illness on the same terms and conditions as all other illnesses, i.e. insurance parity. Under a "unanimous consent" agreement, the Senate would take up the mental illness insurance parity measure (S 486) that would limit debate and amendments that could be offered. This would allow the lead sponsors of S 486 -- Senators Pete Domenici (R-NM) & Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) -- to move the bill quickly through the Senate without extended debate.
Details of the process by which the Senate would take up S 486 have not been finalized yet and it is expected that there will be at least one opportunity for an amendment to be offered that would allow for health plans to seek an exemption from the requirement for parity level coverage if the cost of complying with the law exceeds 1%.
NAMI advocates are urged to contact their Senators and request support for the "unanimous consent" agreement to bring S 486 to the full Senate for an immediate vote, and to oppose any effort to establish a 1% cost increase exemption. All Senators can be reached through the toll-free "parity hotline" at: 1-866-727-4894.
Advocates are urged to remind their Senators that:
- a recent national poll found that 83% of the American public believes that insurance policies should provide equal or greater coverage for mental illnesses,
- according to this same poll, 78% believe that placing routine limits on benefits for mental illness treatment and requiring people to pay more out-of-pocket money for their mental health care is unfair,
- untreated mental illness costs American businesses, government and families at least $79 billion annually in lost productivity and unemployment, broken lives and broken families, emergency room visits, homelessness and unnecessary use of jails and prisons,
- mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and severe anxiety disorders are real illnesses,
- treatment for mental illness works, if accessible - 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 higher expenditures for public disability and health benefits, chronic homelessness and inappropriate criminalization" of mental illness, and
- 34 states have enacted parity laws similar to S 486, but even these laws ffer no protection for workers and their families covered under self-insured Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) plans.