The 1996 Domenici-Wellstone Mental Health Parity Act (MHPA) was a first step towards recognizing the discrimination that exists in most healthcare policies, that discrimination is wrong, and that calls out for corrective action in health-benefit design by eliminating lifetime and annual financial caps. These caps had often been used to deny our members insurance coverage for necessary treatment. The result was that our members most commonly had to rely on the public mental health system. The MHPA set standards that apply nationally, including to ERISA self-insured plans.
Unfortunately, the compromises that were necessary to pass this legislation meant that many important measures for truly equal coverage had to be surrendered.
Fortunately, efforts are underway in Congress in 2001 to expand the MHPA to reach full parity. The Mental Health Equitable Treatment Act (S. 543) was introduced in March 2001 by Senators Domenici and Wellstone.
S. 543 would:
NAMI enthusiastically supports S 543 and urges all senators to support this historic legislation by cosponsoring it. S. 543 is core to NAMI's mission so that the next generation will not have to live out their lives on disability or in public institutions, unable to get the very care that would give them back productive lives.
Insurance discrimination enforces the invalid message that mental illnesses are "untreatable" and "hopeless." The effort to end insurance discrimination received a major boost in December 1999 with the release of the U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Mental Health which documents the scientific evidence that treatment is effective and concludes that there is no justification for health plans to cover treatment for serious brain disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder differently from any other disease.
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