Family Opportunity Act Reintroduced in 107th Congress
Today, at a press conference on Capitol Hill, Senators Grassley (R-IA) and Kennedy (D-MA), and Representatives Sessions (R-TX) and Waxman (D-CA) announced the reintroduction of the Family Opportunity Act of 2001. This bipartisan legislation is intended to end the financial devastation that families too often encounter in attempting to access quality treatment for their children with severe mental illnesses. Last year, advocates in the Senate and House worked until the last days of the congressional session in an attempt to pass this much needed legislation. Even with overwhelming public support and over 200 Co-sponsors in the House and Senate, the bill was defeated due to last minute blocks by the Senate Leadership.
This year, NAMI is hopeful that as Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Senator Grassley will ensure that this legislation is will go through the full committee and hearing process. Also, with the 50/50 split in Senate-- Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle (D-SD) can now bring bills to the floor for a vote. NAMI will again strongly support this bipartisan legislation and will push for its enactment this year.
As readers of the NAMI E-News know from last year, the Family Opportunity Act (FOA) is legislation that restores hope for children with severe mental illnesses and their families. Under the bill, states would be able to offer Medicaid coverage to children with severe disabilities living in middle income families through a buy-in program. Cost-sharing on a sliding scale up to the full premium cost will be required within certain guidelines that protect lower income families. Currently, families must stay impoverished, turn down promotions, place their child in an out of home placement or simply give up custody in order to secure the health care services their child needs under Medicaid.
FOA also authorizes a new time-limited demonstration program that will allow states to extend Medicaid coverage to children with potentially severe disabilities who, without access to the health care services available through Medicaid can be reasonably expected to become severe enough to qualify them for SSI. Another key provision would allow states the option to include children receiving hospital psychiatric services in home and community-based waivers. Finally, FOA would establish "Family to Family Health Information Centers." These health information centers would assist and support families of children with disabilities and/or special health care needs. Staffed by both parents of children with special needs and professionals, these centers would provide technical assistance and information to families on health care programs and services available and appropriate for children with disabilities and/or special needs.
All NAMI members and advocates are urged to call their members of Congress and ask them to join Senators Grassley and Kennedy and Representatives Sessions and Waxman in co-sponsoring this important legislation. Let them know that this bipartisan bill is critical in helping children and families with severe mental illness. If your members of Congress co-sponsored FOA in the 106th Congress, call and thank them for there support last year, and let them know you are counting on them this year to pass FOA in the 107th Congress.
To see if your Senators were co-sponsors last year: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/D?d106:1:./temp/~bd33Pi:@@@P|/bss/d106 query.html|
To see if your Representatives were co-sponsors last year: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/D?d106:1:./temp/~bdImXj:@@@P|/bss/d106 query.html|
Contact members on the Senate Finance Committee and the House Commerce Committee. Let each member know that this legislation will help families by offering Medicaid coverage on a sliding scale to children with severe disabilities living in middle-income families that are unable otherwise to pay for necessary healthcare.
Senate Finance Committee Members: http://www.senate.gov/committees/committee_detail.cfm?COMMITTEE_ID=430
House Commerce Committee Members:
Also-send your messages to the White House. Let President Bush know that you want The Family Opportunity Act of 2001 signed into law this year.
The White House can be reached by calling 202-456-1414 or through the White House web site at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/WH/Mail/html/Mail_President.html
All members of the House and Senate can be reached by calling the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 or by going to the policy page of the NAMI web site at www.nami.org/policy.htm and click on "Write to Congress." District and Washington office numbers can be found in your local phone book or through http://www.congress.org
Many NAMI families know through their own experience that paying for treatment and supports for their child or adolescent with a serious brain disorder can quickly wipe out their employer provided health coverage. In many cases, strict limits on health insurance coverage mean that plans either refuse to pay for intensive treatment, or impose restrictions that can render coverage meaningless. Efforts to achieve insurance parity are helping many families, but most private health plans are still able to deny coverage by making determinations of beyond "medical necessity" for specialized, intensive services that children and adolescents with the most severe mental illnesses need (including residential services). Once coverage is either exhausted or denied, families are faced with losing their jobs, their homes, savings for college education and retirement. Most tragic of all, families are sometimes forced to relinquish custody of their child in order to establish eligibility for public programs such as Medicaid. NAMI's landmark report, Families on the Brink, describes how this lack of access to treatment results in potential lasting harm to the affected children and their families and in broad dissatisfaction with treatment options and capacity. "The overall picture is one of major barriers to care with devastating results for the children and the families. … In more than half the families, fifty-five percent, one of the parents had to change jobs or quit to take care of their ailing offspring. Fifty-nine percent said they felt like they were pushed to the breaking point." - Executive Summary. For more information on NAMI's report, please visit our web site; http://www.nami.org/youth/brinktoc.html.
NAMI wants to know if this legislation would help your family. Please send your story to Kim Encarnation, NAMI, Colonial Place Three, Suite 300, 2107 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA 22201-3042 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org
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