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Arlington, VA - The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) today applauded passage of a Senate amendment designed to ensure that health plans offered to children as part of a new federal program do not discriminate against children with severe mental illnesses. The amendment requires all plans purchased for uninsured children with new federal block grant funds to include parity in their coverage of mental illnesses, if mental illness coverage is offered.
The Senate adopted the amendment by voice vote tonight as part of its deliberations on the balanced budget plan.
"Any effort to expand health coverage for uninsured children should not leave children with severe mental illness and their families out in the cold," said NAMI President Annie Saylor. "NAMI is especially grateful to Senators Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Paul Wellstone (D-MN) for offering this important amendment and for continuing their strong leadership on behalf of the millions of American families who have not been able to get adequate health care for their children with treatable brain disorders."
The Children's Mental Illness Parity Amendment is included as part of the Senate's plan to direct $24 billion in new federal dollars to the states to expand coverage for uninsured children. Under the bill, states could elect to receive funds through a federal block grant that can be used to purchase policies that need only meet an "actuarial equivalence" standard similar to the cost of the average federal employees health plan.
This amendment is viewed as critical for families with children with severe mental illnesses, since nearly all plans offered through the federal employees health program severely limits mental health benefits. For example, all of the five most popular health plans in the federal program have enrollee cost-sharing requirements that are higher for mental illness treatment than for medical surgical benefits and specify significantly tighter restrictions for inpatient and outpatient care.
"This amendment protects our most vulnerable citizens," said NAMI Executive Director Laurie M. Flynn. "It's now up to the congressional budget conferees to do the right thing and ensure fairness to children with severe mental illnesses." The Senate and House versions of the budget reconciliation bill will go to conference after the July 4th recess.
Flynn also noted that parity for children can be implemented at little or no additional cost in most health plans. A recently released Milliman and Robertson report found that integrating parity for children as part of the most popular federal employees plan would raise costs by only 1.9 percent under a tightly managed benefit package. The Milliman and Robertson report also analyzed a Washington state program designed to reach uninsured children and found that adding parity would raise costs by only .3 percent. Absent tight management controls, costs would rise only 3.4 percent for the average federal employees plan and only 2.1 percent under the Washington state program.
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 140,000 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.
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