Full Health Insurance Coverage A Must For People With Severe Mental Illnesses

Statement by Laurie Flynn, Executive Director The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI)

Mar 26 1998

NAMI applauds the bipartisan leadership of Representatives Marge Roukema (R-NJ), Connie Morella (R-MD), Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Bob Wise (D-WV) in working to provide equal health insurance for people with severe mental illnesses. We are pleased that they have introduced this legislation today, and believe if enacted into law it will complete the job of protecting people with brain disorders, which began in 1996 when Congress passed the Mental Health Parity Act.

While the Mental Health Parity Act represents a revolution in American health policy, it falls short of providing full protection. People with severe mental illnesses still endure discrimination in the health insurance marketplace despite the progress made by this landmark law. These vulnerable Americans and their families continue to pay higher co-payments and deductibles and face more unfair treatment limits than people with equally devastating physical illnesses - and all because their disorder is located in the brain and not another organ of the body.

People with diabetes aren't forced to forgo life-saving insulin treatment nor are cancer patients expected to give up much-needed chemotherapy. Why then, do insurance companies actively discriminate against people with brain disorders? This is unconscionable given what science has taught us about these disorders and the remarkable new treatments now available.

We are pleased that the legislation introduced today builds on the historic first step of ending discrimination in lifetime and annual dollar limits. It also prevents health plans from imposing restrictions on coverage such as cost-sharing requirements and inpatient and outpatient treatment limits that today only apply to mental illnesses, but not to other physical illnesses.

Medical science has proven that illnesses such as schizophrenia, manic-depressive illness, and major depression are serious brain disorders that should be treated no differently than any other chronic and disabling disease. These illnesses are highly treatable, yet the failure to provide adequate coverage in health insurance forces many people into poverty, homelessness, or other tragic circumstances. We urge Congress to pass this historic legislation and give every American the chance at a full and productive life.

We call on every member of Congress to put people first and make full parity a reality for all Americans. We will continue to push for fairness and equality in health care protections for people with severe mental illnesses for as long as it takes. Every American should be guaranteed equal health care protection under the law.

With more than 172,000 members, NAMI is the nation's leading grassroots organization solely dedicated to improving the lives of persons with severe mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness), major depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and severe anxiety disorders.