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Parity Set to Move in 2004

When the 108th Congress reconvenes in January, Senators Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) are intending to push a major initiative to move mental illness insurance parity legislation (S 486) to the full Senate. This plan includes a preliminary agreement to move the bill through the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee by the spring. S 486 already has 67 bipartisan cosponsors (more than 2/3 of the Senate). Momentum in the Senate is intended to spark action on the part of the House of Representatives. The House bill (HR 953) has 241 bipartisan cosponsors, over half the House. President Bush also supports enactment of parity legislation.

The Voice of Consumers and Families is Key

2004 will likely be a "make or break" year for parity. Senator Domenici has been pursuing legislation to bar insurance discrimination for over a decade. Despite overwhelming bipartisan support, business and insurance groups (and their allies in Congress) continue to oppose this simple measure – that limits on coverage that apply only mental illness treatment are unjust and unfair. While the argument on the merits have been won by parity advocates, success has been hampered by the struggle to "put a human face" on the issue. This "human face" is consumers and families and their personal stories demonstrating how insurance discrimination results in:

  • differential coverage for mental illness, as opposed to coverage for heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, etc.,
  • unfair barriers to treatment, including delayed access to treatment that results in adverse outcomes (deterioration of symptoms, suicide attempts, disruption of families, etc.),
  • exhaustion of limited insurance benefits within a short period of time,
  • people with mental illness being forced on to public benefit program (especially Medicaid and SSI) at tremendous expense to taxpayers, and
  • increased absenteeism in the workplace that costs employers.

Advocacy in Action – Consumers and Families Need to Share Their Stories

In order to help the sponsors of insurance parity legislation in Congress, NAMI advocates are strongly encouraged to share your personal stories to help further the cause of mental illness parity legislation. Consumer and family advocates are urged to forward your story to NAMI National to be used in the fight in Congress to pass parity. In particular, consumers and families are encouraged to forward personal stories that detail:

  • how unfair limits on insurance benefits for mental illness treatment and the failure to intervene early in the course of mental illness result in deterioration of symptoms, suicide attempts, homelessness, stress on families, etc.,
  • how health plans impose restrictions on mental illness treatment that do not apply to treatment for all other medical-surgical benefits and why this differential is unfair,
  • how the imposition of higher co-payments, deductibles and other cost sharing, as well as rigid limits on inpatient days and outpatient visits are discriminatory and resulted in bad treatment outcomes and the shifting of the treatment burden to families,
  • how limits on coverage for mental illness treatment result in enormous financial burdens for families and higher costs for all other health benefits, and
  • how consumers and families are forced on to overburdened public programs when private health insurance plans impose unfair limits and restrictions.

It is critically important that consumers and families link their personal story about mental illness to the ways in which health plans refuse to adequately cover treatment for mental illness.

Please forward your personal story to Elise Resnick on the NAMI Policy Staff. Personal Stories should be submitted in writing to elise@nami.org or Elise Resnick, c/o NAMI, 2107 Wilson Blvd., #300, Arlington, VA 22201

One-Year Extension of 1996 Federal Parity Law Passed

The closing days of this year’s congressional session, both the House and Senate cleared legislation (S 1929) extending the 1996 Mental Health Parity Act (MHPA) for an additional year (through December 31, 2004). The President is expected to sign the bill into law. The MHPA requires parity, but only for annual and lifetime dollar limits. In passing this bill, parity sponsors made clear that this action is no substitute for passage of legislation for full parity benefits.


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