|For Immediate Release
10 Jun 99
Below is a letter sent by NAMI Executive Director Laurie Flynn in response to today's New York Times' editorial supporting parity for mental illness coverage in all group insurance plans. The article appears at the end of this NAMI E-News. Anyone interested in joining NAMI's desire to applaud the decision of the N.Y. Times to endorse parity is encouraged to write to the address on the letter below or email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or fax to Letters to the Editor at 212-556-3622.
June 10, 1999
The New York Times
229 W. 43rd Street
New York, NY 10036-3959
The New York Times’ editorial decision to support health insurance parity (Equitable Coverage for Mental Illness, June 10) sends a critical message to our country’s leadership: End insurance discrimination against persons with mental illnesses NOW.
One in five American families are affected by severe and persistent mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or major depression. Too often they face bankruptcy when their insurance runs out. Ultimately these families watch their loved ones – usually young people still in their 20s – end up on public assistance, and consigned to unproductive and humiliating lives of dependency and poverty.
Thanks to the tireless efforts of so many advocates personally affected by mental illness, we see a historically indifferent healthcare system beginning to change. In particular, Tipper Gore and two courageous lawmakers – Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Senator Paul Wellstone (D-MN) – have refused to abandon millions of Americans struggling daily with mental illnesses to lives of cruel and unnecessary suffering.
The New York Times – and the 24 states that have passed parity laws – recognize mental illnesses as the biologically based brain disorders they are. New and more effective treatments offer tremendous hope for reclaiming full and productive lives, but only if you can get the treatments. It’s now time for public policy to catch up with medical science and for Congress to do the same by supporting the Mental Health Equitable Treatment Act of 1999 (S. 796).
Equitable Coverage for Mental Illness
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President Clinton has announced that he will require Federal employee health plans that cover nine million people to provide the same coverage for mental illness and substance abuse that they do for other diseases. Congress should expand upon that sensible and humane step by requiring mental health parity in all group insurance plans.
The 1996 Mental Health Parity Act was supposed to do that in plans serving businesses with more than 50 employees. But insurance companies, which opposed the law, have gotten around it by changing the way they limit access to mental health services. The 1996 act does not mandate mental health coverage. Instead it prohibits health plans that offer such coverage from setting annual or lifetime dollar limits for mental health services that are lower than limits for other medical services. Many insurers have simply replaced those overall limits with tight restrictions on the number of hospital days or outpatient visits for mental illness.
A bill introduced by Senators Pete Domenici and Paul Wellstone, sponsors of the 1996 act, would close that huge loophole, and impose the requirement on plans for companies with more than 25 workers. The bill would also provide for parity on deductibles and co-payments in treatment for severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia. A broader House bill sponsored by Marge Roukema would also include parity for substance abuse treatments.
Much of the debate in 1996 concerned fears that treating mental illnesses equitably would send insurance costs soaring or cause many employers to drop mental health coverage altogether. Evidence gathered by the National Institute of Mental Health found that neither has happened. A 1998 N.I.M.H. study, based largely on states that instituted strong mental health parity requirements before the 1996 act, found that such requirements increased health care costs by less than 1 percent when carried out under managed care. There is evidence that the costs connected to parity for substance abuse treatments are also very small.
Recent medical breakthroughs have produced effective treatments for mental illness. The brain is an organ, and diseases related to this organ should be treated like any other medical illness.
Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company
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