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Arlington, VA - Colorado has joined the ranks of an elite group of states intolerant of insurance discrimination against people with severe mental illnesses, a move lauded by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI). On March 18, by a vote of 23 to 12 in the state Senate and a previous vote of 43 to 12 in the state House, Colorado passed legislation (HB97-1192) calling for "the treatment of biologically based mental illness that is no less extensive than the coverage provided for any other physical illness."
The legislation will go to Colorado Governor Roy Romer for signature into law.
As part of its national Campaign to End Discrimination, NAMI is working in more than 30 states to end unfair insurance practices, an effort that was spurred by unprecedented federal law passed last year to provide health insurance parity for serious mental illnesses. In passing this legislation, Colorado becomes the first state in 1997 to achieve the parity goal.
"Colorado has broken new ground in building a secure future for people who at one time thought there was no future," said Laurie M. Flynn, NAMI executive director. "State leaders have validated in legislation what researchers have proven in science -- mental illnesses are physical disorders of the brain and treatment works."
The bill, which would take effect January 1, 1998, provides coverage for the most serious brain disorders, including schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, major depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, and panic disorder. The provision applies to all group health policies, plans, or contracts issued or renewed on or after the effective date.
"This is a proud moment in the history of the state of Colorado," said Carol Staples, executive director of the Colorado Alliance for the Mentally Ill. "This achievement would not have been possible without the leadership of the bill’s sponsors Sen. Dottie Wham (R-35th) in the Senate and Rep. Marcy Morrison (R-22nd) in the House."
Colorado joins six states that have taken legislative action against insurance discrimination. Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island have enacted statewide insurance parity laws. Texas has also passed legislation that provides state employees with equitable insurance coverage for severe mental illnesses.
NAMI is the nation’s largest grassroots organization dedicated to improving the lives of persons with severe mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression, and anxiety disorders. NAMI’s membership includes more than 140,000 people with brain disorders and their families, and 1,140 state and local affiliates in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Canada. NAMI’s efforts focus on support to persons with serious brain disorders and to their families; advocacy for nondiscriminatory and equitable federal and state policies; research into the causes, symptoms, and treatments for brain disorders; and education to eliminate the pervasive stigma toward several mental illnesses.
"Open Your Mind, Mental Illnesses Are Brain Disorders." NAMI’s Campaign to End Discrimination is a five-year effort to end discrimination against people with severe mental illnesses in insurance, housing, and employment.
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