Do Not Let This Historic Opportunity for Parity Slip Away
Two thousand and seven has seen historic progress in the nearly 20 year effort to achieve a comprehensive federal protection to ensure that mental illnesses are covered in insurance plans on the same terms and conditions as all other medical conditions. The Senate unanimously passed a parity bill (S 558) on September 18. Three separate committees in the House have cleared a separate version (HR 1424) with bipartisan support. The bills are very similar and the differences between them can, and should, be easily resolved when Congress returns in December.
In addition, under congressional budget rules, a budget 'offset" (totaling $3.1 billion over 10 years) must be found to make up for lost revenue as a result of group health plans paying for additional mental illness treatment with before tax dollars – as opposed to families having to pay for mental illness treatment with after tax dollars once they run up against discriminatory limits in their health plans.
It is important you engage members of Congress wherever you see them during the holiday season to remind them that they cannot fail to complete action on this bipartisan legislation. Advocates are encouraged to reach out to members of Congress at events like: town hall meetings, radio call-in programs, holiday parades, shopping malls, and Christmas tree lightings.
When you contact members of Congress, remind them:
- The differences between S 558 and HR 1424 are narrow and the offset needed to “pay for” parity is small relative to the overall federal budget. There is simply no excuse for Congress not finishing the job and passing a parity bill that can be sent to White House before the end of the year.
- Untreated mental illness costs American businesses, government and families more than $80 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 limits in health plans bankrupt families and place a tremendous burden on taxpayers through higher expenditures for public disability and health benefits, chronic homelessness and inappropriate criminalization of mental illness,
- Federal parity legislation has very broad support in Congress – All 100 Senators agreed to S 558 when it passed the Senate unanimously on September 18 – HR 1424 has 273 cosponsors and has cleared 3 committees with broad bipartisan support, and
- President Bush is in record in favor of a federal standard for equitable coverage and signed the Texas parity law in 1997.
Help the sponsors of the House and Senate parity bills – Senators Pete Domenici (R-NM), Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) and Mike Enzi (R-WY) and Representatives Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) and Jim Ramstad (R-MN) – achieve this long sought victory for people living with mental illness and their families!