NAMI Blasts New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson for Veto Of Insurance Parity Bill As Anti-Family, Anti-Taxpayer

Mar 12 1998

Arlington, VA - The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) today blasted New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson for his veto of HB 315, which would have established a pilot program for state employees providing coverage for mental illnesses equal to that offered for other physical illnesses. The bill, which enjoyed overwhelming bipartisan support in the state's legislature, outlined the parameters for a two-year pilot program that would have enabled New Mexico to make an informed decision regarding the fiscal soundness and fairness of parity legislation for New Mexicans.

"Families in New Mexico and across the country are shocked and disappointed that Governor Johnson bowed to special interest groups and continued to support discrimination in insurance coverage for mental illness," said NAMI Executive Director Laurie Flynn. "By caving in to business's fear that the pilot would prove parity is indeed cost effective, he put people with severe mental illnesses and their families last. Governor Johnson has pulled in the lifeline that parity assures and shackled thousands of New Mexico families to a life without hope of a second chance, even as state and federal lawmakers around the country move in the direction of equality for people with mental illness.

"Governor Johnson's actions are behind the times and out of step with many other Governors and federal lawmakers," said Flynn. "Simply put, the Governor's actions are anti-family and anti-taxpayer. Courageous state leaders throughout the nation and lawmakers on Capitol Hill 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.

"While we are outraged by the Governor's lack of compassion and vision for the people of New Mexico, we applaud the bravery of the state's House and Senate legislators for standing tall and voting in favor of New Mexico's families," said Flynn. "The overwhelming bipartisan support from these lawmakers gives us renewed energy, drive and passion to continue our fight to achieve equality for all New Mexicans."

Flynn added that New Mexico's own Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) has been "a patron saint to the millions of Americans suffering from mental illness. The stark contrast between 'leader with compassion' versus 'leader without compassion' has not gone unnoticed by NAMI or the many other advocates working to end stigma against severe mental illness."

Paving the way nationally toward ending decades of unfair insurance discrimination, Senator Domenici and Senator Paul Wellstone (D-MN), successfully sponsored landmark legislation, the Mental Health Parity Act of 1996, which took effect on January 1, 1998.

A firestorm of activity also is spreading across the country with fifteen states now on the books as intolerant of insurance discrimination against people with severe mental illnesses, including Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, and Vermont. South Dakota is expected to join the equal coverage ranks this week.

"Hardworking New Mexico families who pay their insurance premiums expecting to be covered for catastrophic illnesses are forced to go on Medicaid and strain an already overburdened public system in order to get treatment," said New Mexico Alliance for the Mentally Ill President Patricia Reilly. "Governor Johnson has left New Mexico families out in the cold and that's disappointing."

Reilly vowed that the AMI of New Mexico will "continue to fight for fairness and equality for as long as it takes."

"It is unfortunate that Governor Johnson bought into the scare tactics of the business special interests and believed the misinformation regarding the cost of equal coverage," said Flynn. "Experience in states around the country has shown 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."

Ending discrimination against people with severe mental illnesses is not only the right thing to do, but evidence is mounting that it is affordable. A paper published on November 12, 1997 in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) provided evidence that equitable health insurance under managed care costs less that $1 per employee per year.