Arlington, VA--Members of the House-Senate Conference Committee are currently in the final stages of deliberations on the FY 2002 Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill (HR 3061), deciding whether or not to include full mental illness insurance parity legislation (S 543) in the final version of the bill that will be sent to the White House for President Bush's signature. The House-Senate Conference Committee is expected to meet as early as tomorrow. Key House leaders remain opposed to the mental illness parity amendment as it stands. Senate sponsors Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Paul Wellstone (D-MN) are continuing their campaign for parity and are still pressing House leaders and President Bush to include their amendment in the final version of HR 3061.
Time is running out, but this battle is not over. As negotiations on the final version of Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill moves into the final stages, NAMI advocates are strongly encouraged to continue contacting members of Congress to urge support for the Domenici-Wellstone parity amendment. Even if they have already pledged support for parity, urge them to weigh in with the members of the House-Senate conference committee and convince their colleagues to support the Domenici-Wellstone amendment.
NAMI and its colleague advocacy organizations have set up a toll-free parity "legislative hotline" at 1-866-PARITY4 (1-866-727-4894) to reach the Capitol Switchboard and ask for your Representative's office by name or by giving your home ZIP code. Once connected, NAMI advocates should ask to speak to the member's Health Legislative Assistant and urge them to support the Domenici-Wellstone mental illness parity amendment to the Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill (HR 3061). Please go to www.nami.org/policy for "Parity Talking Points" to use when talking with members of Congress or their staff.
On December 5, NAMI ran a full page in the Washington Post calling on President Bush to support inclusion of the Domenici-Wellstone mental illness parity amendment in the final Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill (HR 3061). The ad included a photograph of then-Governor Bush signing the Texas parity law in 1997, surrounded by leaders of NAMI Texas. President Bush remains critically important to the prospects for parity in 2001. NAMI advocates are urged to continue deliver a message of strong support for parity by calling the White House comment line (202-456-1414) or by sending an e-mail through the White House Web site at www.whitehouse.gov/contact. Remind President Bush that he is already on record in support non-discriminatory coverage, having signed a mental illness parity bill in 1997 as Governor of Texas.
NAMI Advocacy is Making a Difference
On November 30, NAMI affiliates in 8 sites across the country held press conferences targeting key House leaders that are currently blocking action on parity. Since that day Op-Eds and letters to the editor have appeared in several newspapers along with ads placed by NAMI urging constituents to contact their members of Congress in support of parity legislation. NAMI also targeted six congressional districts for radio advertisements calling on specific House members to support the parity amendment. The NAMI policy staff salutes the outstanding efforts of dedicated NAMI advocates and volunteers in coordinating these press conferences, op-eds, and letters. Your advocacy is making a difference.
Compromise proposal Debated in the House
In addition to ongoing efforts to pass parity as part of the Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill, Representative Nancy L. Johnson (R-CT) is working on a compromise parity proposal that would be attached instead to a separate economic stimulus package. Representative Johnson's plan would allow for a cost-based exemption that would be available to health plans that experience an increase in premiums above a certain threshold as a result of complying with parity. In addition, Representative Johnson is also attempting to find a middle ground on the scope of the parity requirement, granting health plans some discretion to define which diagnoses and benefits would be subject to a parity requirement (similar language was included in the expired 1996 federal parity law). NAMI welcomes this effort to resolve the current impasse over the Domenici-Wellstone amendment. Representative Johnson is a long time supporter of mental illness parity in the House.
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