NAMI Urges Massachusetts Legislators To Pass Health Insurance Parity Bill

The Time To Act Is Now!

May 12 1998

Arlington, VA - The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) today called for immediate and full passage of S2165, which would amend the Massachusetts insurance laws so that mental illness is covered in the same way as other biologically based diseases.

S2165, which passed unanimously in the Mass. Senate on April 2nd (by a vote of 38 - 0), is now under consideration in the House Ways & Means Committee. Seventeen other states, including every other state in New England, have already enacted parity laws, and bills in two other states are awaiting signature by the Governor.

"It is ironic that Massachusetts, home to world-class hospitals and site of some of the most impressive scientific breakthroughs in the understanding of mental illness, continues to lag behind the rest of the country when it comes to health insurance coverage," said NAMI Executive Director Laurie Flynn. "It is time for the Bay State's out-of-date insurance system to reflect what science has already proven time and again: that mental illnesses are biologically based disorders and that treatment for diseases such as depression, manic depression and schizophrenia are often just as effective as those for heart disease and cancer."

Flynn also challenged Paul K. Ling, a Quincy psychologist who claims he represents consumers and is concerned that the parity bill will compromise patient confidentiality rights. "The confidentiality issue is a red herring," countered Flynn. "S2165 actually increases the protections for consumers."

The bill stipulates that only licensed mental health professionals be permitted to authorize or deny services. Insurers and managed care organizations may not go beyond disclosure provisions under terms and conditions of consent specified for other medical conditions. And a key provision in the Commonwealth's existing privacy law, which requires the written consent of the patient before information is disclosed, is preserved in S2165.

"The confidentiality issue has been raised in other states, and it is often just a smoke screen for providers who are lobbying for pocketbook protection under the guise of patient rights," said Flynn. "We at NAMI can speak with authority on issues affecting mental health consumers -- in a way that no other organization can -- because we are the nation's largest consumer organization, with 172,000 consumer and family members," said Flynn. "We are concerned only with ensuring access to appropriate care -- and S2165 will allow that."

S2165 requires that health insurers treat adults with serious mental illness and children with serious emotional disturbances in the same way as people with other physical illnesses. The bill, which covers inpatient, intermediate, and outpatient treatment, removes the $500 ceiling on outpatient treatment and eliminates discriminatory co-payments and annual and lifetime caps on expenditures. It also requires equal coverage for patients with alcohol or chemical dependency. S2165 would apply to all insurance companies, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, and health maintenance organization plans in the Commonwealth.

Flynn noted that just last week the Hay Group, an actuarial and benefits consulting firm in Washington, DC, released a study that showed that behavioral health care benefits have been slashed 670 percent more than general health care benefit costs over the past 10 years (1988-97). And while the value of general health care benefits has declined 7 percent in that period, the value of behavioral health care has declined 54 percent. The study was commissioned by NAMI, the National Association of Psychiatric Health Systems, which represents the nation's behavioral health care provider organizations, and the Association of Behavioral Group Practices, which works collaboratively with NAPHS on advocacy issues.

"The erosion of health care benefits for mental illness has got to stop," Flynn said. "Unfair treatment of those with heart disease, cancer, or other serious physical illnesses would not be tolerated in Massachusetts, which has a strong historical tradition of leadership in the humane treatment of its citizens. By passing S2165, the Massachusetts House would send a strong message that discrimination against people with mental illness must finally end in the Commonwealth. We strongly urge the Massachusetts House to pass S2165 immediately."

In total, 17 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. Two others -- Delaware and Tennessee -- have passed the state legislatures and are awaiting signature by the Governors.

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 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 nondiscriminatory 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 illnesses.

“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.