NAMI Congratulates Gov. Carper For Signing Equal Insurance Coverage Into Law

May 14 1998

Arlington, VA - Laurie Flynn, executive director of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), congratulated Governor Thomas Carper (D) for signing House Bill 156 into law today, putting an end to insurance discrimination against thousands of people with mental illness in Delaware. HB156 will require health insurers to provide coverage for biologically based mental illnesses under the same terms and conditions of coverage offered for physical illnesses.

"Governor Carper has made an enormous difference in the lives of thousands in the First State. For some, it could be the difference between life and death,” said Flynn. “Delaware state leaders have validated in legislation what researchers have proven in science: mental illnesses are brain disorders and treatment works.” Receiving special recognition by NAMI are the bill's sponsors, Representative Jane Maroney (R) and Senator Patricia Blevins (D), for their tireless effort and steadfast dedication to bring equal insurance coverage to every Delaware citizen. HB 156 received unanimous support in the Senate and overwhelming support in the House.

The Alliance for the Mentally Ill in Delaware (the Alliance) attributes strong support for HB156 to a coalition of interests that were brought together when forming the bill. Advocates for the mentally ill, legislators, and business interests all joined to write one of the nation's most comprehensive parity bills. "Parties representing very different viewpoints came together with the goal of helping thousands of Delaware families struggling with mental illness,” stated Mark Pacilio, executive director of the Alliance. “We identified a need, educated one another on the issues, and worked to produce a piece of legislation that will benefit countless people in our state."

Studies show that states with parity laws experience no significant increase in premium costs and may even experience a decrease in certain instances. These findings persuaded business leaders in Delaware to back the HB156. Rich Heffron, senior vice president for government affairs at the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce, stated, "This is a first step in getting adequate coverage for mental illness in Delaware. We felt this was the right thing to do and worked diligently with the Delaware Alliance on this legislation."

The cooperation between mental health advocates and business leaders in Delaware is in stark contrast to other states around the nation where parity laws are pending. In neighboring Pennsylvania, a mental health anti-discrimination bill introduced by Representative Thomas Gannon (R) is being aggressively fought by insurance industry lobbyists and business interests, even though all available evidence indicates parity laws have little impact on insurance costs for businesses.

For too long, people with treatable mental illnesses have been denied access to medical care due to discriminatory insurance policies. Unlike physical illnesses, most insurers place severe restrictions on services for mental illnesses and impose unrealistic spending caps for treatment needs. Some offer no coverage at all.

The bill's primary sponsor, Representative Jane Maroney (R), sees this as an incremental step toward removing the stigma of mental illness. "Passing HB156 demonstrates that we recognize mental illness as a biologically based disorder. We are finally beginning to address the discrimination that exists against people with mental illness and shift the focus of conversation to true causes and treatment."

More states across the nation recognize the ongoing discrimination against people with mental illness and are passing parity legislation. In total, 18 states have enacted laws that prohibit health insurance discrimination against people with mental illness: Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, and Vermont.