The Mental Health Equitable Treatment Act of 2001
On March 15, 2001, Senators Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Paul Wellstone (D-MN) introduced The Mental Health Equitable Treatment Act of 2001, S. 543. This bill will finish the work that Congress began in 1996 – and that 32 states have followed up on with their own parity laws. S. 543 would also provide to all insured Americans similar parity coverage to that in the Federal Employees Health Benefit Plan (FEHBP) – the program covering 9.5 million federal workers and their families (including members of Congress). NAMI strongly supports S. 543 as a critical step forward in the process of ending health insurance discrimination against people with severe mental illness. A bipartisan coalition in the House, led by Representative Marge Roukema (R-NJ), introduced a House version of mental health parity legislation (HR 162) January 3, 2001.
The Mental Health Equitable Treatment Act of 2001, S. 543, firmly states that severe mental illnesses are biologically-based illnesses of the brain and should be treated like any other medical illness. The bill provides for non-discriminatory coverage for adult and childhood mental illnesses as determined by medical science in conjunction with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) which includes: schizophrenia, bipolar disorder (or manic depression), major depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and severe anxiety disorders.
S. 543 contains critically important expansions of the 1996 Mental Health Parity Act (its requirements were limited to equal annual and lifetime dollar limits in health plans). By requiring that all limitations on the coverage for "severe biologically-based mental illnesses" be equal to those for medical and surgical benefits, S. 543 will once and for all end discrimination. No longer would insurance plans be able to impose arbitrary caps on inpatient days and outpatient visits. No longer would health plans be able to charge higher co-payment and deductible requirements that apply only to treatment for mental illness.
S. 543 also lowers the current 50-employee small business exemption to 25, thereby expanding parity coverage to an additional 15 million people. Finally, S. 543 proposes to remove the current September 30, 2001 sunset provision of the 1996 Mental Health Parity Act.
All NAMI advocates are urged to contact their Senators immediately and urge them to cosponsor S. 543. All Senators can be reached by calling the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121 or by going to the policy page on the NAMI web site at www.nami.org/policy.htm and click on “Write to Congress.”
Are your Senators cosponsors of this important parity legislation? If yes, please call and thank them for their support. If either of your Senators are not on this list, please call their office and urge their support and co-sponsorship of S. 543. Please do not accept a vague promise of support “when the bill comes to a vote.” The reality is that S. 543 needs additional cosponsors – with appropriate bipartisan balance – in order to bring the Mental Health Equitable Treatment Act of 2001 to vote before the full Senate.
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