NAMI Blasts Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating for Veto of State Parity Bill

Discrimination Against People With Mental Illness Allowed To Continue

Apr 24 1998

Arlington, VA - The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) today blasted Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating (R) for his veto of SB 1059, which would have required health insurance and health benefit plans for 50 or more employees to include coverage for severe mental illnesses equal to that of physical illnesses. The governor issued his veto, claiming that this bill would significantly increase insurance costs for Oklahoma families, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

"Families in Oklahoma and across the country are shocked and disappointed that Governor Keating bowed to special interest groups and continued to support discrimination in insurance coverage for mental illness," said NAMI Executive Director Laurie Flynn. "By vetoing this bill, effective treatment for thousands of Oklahomans continues to be denied. We are disappointed the Governor has allowed this, even as state and federal lawmakers around the country move in the direction of equality for people with mental illness."

Many supporters of this bill stand in disbelief. "Unfair treatment of those with heart disease, cancer, or other serious physical illness would never be tolerated in Oklahoma. Why then, is it allowed for serious mental illnesses-conditions we know are treatable?" said Pat Ratterman, president of NAMI Oklahoma.

Ending discrimination against people with severe mental illness is not only the right thing to do, but evidence is mounting that it is affordable. A 1997 actuarial study on the state of Oklahoma shows that costs would only increase to $.97 per month per individual. This is less than $12 a year to provide the same coverage for severe mental illnesses as for other physical illnesses.

Despite these findings, Governor Keating deferred to the advice of insurance lobbyists when making his decision. In defense of his veto, the Governor refers to a meeting with 15 insurance professionals who informed him that insurance costs for families would increase significantly. "We are saddened to think that the Governor chose to listen to 15 insurance lobbyists rather than the thousands of families in Oklahoma who struggle with the issues of mental illness each day," said Flynn. Others are expressing concern also. "It is really unfortunate that the Governor was provided with incorrect and inaccurate information regarding premium costs. We feel he was misled and was given erroneous information by those opposed to fairness in treatment," said bill sponsor, Senator Angela Monson (D).

Representative Mark Seikel (D), another bill sponsor, expressed outrage at the action. "Shame on him. What he has done is to turn his back on the families of Oklahoma, many of whom have suffered in silence with these traumatic illnesses." Out of step with many other lawmakers around the country, Governor Keating's veto sends a message that health insurance discrimination is tolerable in Oklahoma. George Bush, Republican Governor of Texas is one of many state leaders who has signed a parity bill in recent years. Texas actually experienced a 47.9% decrease in costs for state employees enrolled in its managed care program under parity. 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.

More states across the nation are recognizing the ongoing discrimination against people with mental illness and are increasingly passing parity legislation. Georgia's governor Zell Miller signed that state's parity bill on April 6 and South Dakota did the same on March 13. In total, seventeen states have enacted laws that prohibit health insurance discrimination against people with mental illness: Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, and Vermont.

"Open Your Mind. Mental Illnesses are Brain Disorders." NAMI's Campaign to End Discrimination is a five-year effort to end insurance, housing, and employment discrimination against people with severe mental illnesses.