Mary Rappaport 703/524-7600
|For Immediate Release
9 Feb 98
Tennessee lawmakers have an unrivaled opportunity to help thousands of Tennesseans break free from a legacy of unfair discrimination, being cast as second-class citizens from a health care system historically indifferent to their needs. By putting Tennessee families first and not bending to the scare tactics of a few select special interests, Senate bill 2798 has the ability to validate in legislation what researchers have proven in science: Mental illnesses are brain disorders and treatment works. The President and the U.S. Congress knew this all too well and refused to bend to the National Federation of Independent Business last year when it lobbied our federal lawmakers in favor of business.
The Tennessee Senate bill continues the revolution in American health policy that began in January with the enactment of the federal Mental Health Parity Act. This historic law ends at least some of the long-held practices of providing far less insurance coverage for mental illnesses, for which proven and effective treatments are available, than is provided for other physical diseases.
While the Mental Health Parity Act requires annual and lifetime benefits for mental illnesses to be equal to that offered for other physical disorders, it is a far cry from full parity. For example, the law does not mandate mental health benefits, but applies only to those companies already providing such coverage. Additionally, the law has a small business exemption which excludes organizations with 50 employees or less. In addition, the law permits companies to shift costs in other ways, such as increasing deductibles and co-insurance payments. Further, employers can be exempted if their costs rise more than one percent as a result of compliance. Studies have shown, however, that 85 percent of businesses familiar with the law are either in compliance or planning to make changes to comply with it by year's end, and that mental health benefits will add only $1 per employee each year to an insurer's costs.
We are pleased that Tennessee legislators are looking at ways to fill in the gaps where the federal legislation falls short and to join the firestorm of activity in states across the country that have achieved parity. Fifteen states are on the books as intolerant of insurance discrimination against people with severe mental illnesses, including Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, and Vermont.
We urge Tennessee legislators to stand tall and vote in favor of the family, not the bottom line. The people of Tennessee shouldn't be denied medical insurance just because their brain gets sick. It's time to give all people equal access and coverage.
With more than 168,000 members, NAMI is the nation's leading grassroots organization solely dedicated to improving the lives of persons with severe mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness), major depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety disorders. NAMI has more than 1,140 state and local affiliates in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Canada.