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Arlington, VA - The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) blasted Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating for his veto of HB 1077, which would have required Oklahoma insurance companies to offer equal overage for mental illness to the same extent as for other physical illnesses. The bill, which had bipartisan support in the state's legislature, did not require companies to provide the coverage in all policies, but only to offer an optional parity coverage policy.
"Families in Oklahoma and across the country are shocked and disappointed that Governor Keating bowed to special interest groups and continued to condone discrimination in insurance coverage for mental illnesses," said NAMI Executive Director Laurie Flynn.
"Governor Keating's actions are out of step with many other Governors regardless of party affiliation," Flynn continued. "Courageous state leaders throughout the country know that parity is not only a matter of fairness, but that it also reduces taxpayer burden as fewer people would need to access the welfare system to get coverage for biologically based brain disorders. The Governor's actions are anti-family and anti-taxpayer."
Since 1991, 15 states have passed legislation requiring equal coverage for brain disorders such as schizophrenia, manic depressive illness and major depression, as they do for other physical illnesses. These states include Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, Maryland, Indiana, Arizona, Colorado, South Carolina, North Carolina, Arkansas, Connecticut, Missouri, Minnesota, and Texas. Similar legislation is currently under consideration by state lawmakers in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, California, and Illinois.
Earlier this month, Texas Governor George Bush signed parity legislation expanding on a 1991 law that required parity coverage for state employees. "Parity is not a liberal or conservative issue," said John Taddiken, State Coordinator for NAMI's Campaign to End Discrimination. "Hardworking Oklahoma families who pay their insurance premiums expecting to be covered for catastrophic illnesses are forced to go on Medicaid and burden an already overburdened public system in order to get treatment. That's just not right."
"It is unfortunate the Governor Keating believed the misinformation regarding the cost of equal coverage," said Flynn. "The experience in Texas and elsewhere clearly shows that the cost of equal coverage is negligible. Perhaps the Governor feels that people with no fault brain disorders and their families are not worth the effort to end such blatant discrimination."
"We will continue to fight for this issue for as long as it takes," Taddiken vowed.
NAMI is the nation's largest grassroots organization solely dedicated to improving the lives of persons with severe mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness), major depression, and anxiety disorders. NAMI has more than 165,000 individual members 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 non-discriminatory and equitable federal and state policies; research into the causes, symptoms and treatments for brain disorders; and education to eliminate the pervasive stigma toward severe mental illness.
"Open Your Mind, Mental Illnesses Are Brain Disorders."
NAMI's Campaign to End Discrimination is a five-year effort to end discrimination in insurance, housing, and employment against people with severe mental illnesses.
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