NAMI Urges Pennsylvania To Remove Barriers To Medical Treatment

Gannon Amendment Will End Mental Illness Insurance Discrimination

May 21 1998

Arlington, VA - NAMI calls on Pennsylvania Senate leaders to end insurance discrimination against people with mental illness and send the Patient Bill of Rights (Senate Bill 100) with the Gannon amendment attached to Governor Tom Ridge (R) without delay. The Gannon amendment, sponsored by Representative Thomas Gannon (R), will require health insurance policies to provide coverage for biologically based mental illnesses under the same terms and conditions as coverage for physical illnesses. The amendment was overwhelmingly approved by the House of Representatives on May 5 and is now being considered by the Senate Rules Committee.

"We cannot, in good conscience, allow families struggling with mental illness to continue one day longer without the protection afforded to others with equally debilitating physical illnesses," said Laurie Flynn, executive director of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI). "I urge the Senate to stand with those suffering with mental illness and reject health insurance discrimination. If SB 100 is passed without the Gannon amendment attached, the Senate will be turning their backs on the one in five Pennsylvania families affected by mental illness."

Studies repeatedly show that granting access to medical treatment for biologically based mental illness results in little to no increase in premium costs. It is also well known that not treating mental illness can result in millions of dollars of lost productivity, earnings, and premature death. Despite these findings, lawmakers in Pennsylvania are under intense pressure from the insurance industry to drop any legislation extending equal coverage to people with mental illness. Should lawmakers remove the Gannon amendment from SB 100, they will be giving their tacit approval for discrimination against Pennsylvania families to continue.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge agreed in February to take a closer look at this issue in light of reputable cost data submitted to him by mental health advocates but he has yet to offer an opinion. "The Governor has been given the information he needs to make a decision. He must ask the Senate to send him SB100 with language that includes the elimination of insurance discrimination," said the amendment's sponsor, Representative Gannon. "It is only with Governor Ridge's support that we will be able to end the injustices that deny people with mental illness equal access to insurance coverage."

More states are beginning to recognize mental illnesses as treatable brain disorders and are starting to view equal access to medical treatment as good public policy. Republican Governor Don Sundquist of Tennessee signed his state's mental health anti-discrimination bill on Monday. It passed unanimously in the state senate and without opposition from the business community. Democrat Governor Thomas Carper signed a similar bill in Delaware exactly one week ago. Written with the assistance of the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce, it is one of the nation's most comprehensive bills requiring equal access to insurance coverage for both mental and physical illnesses.

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. Inclusion of the Gannon amendment with SB 100 will ensure that families who cope with mental illness will no longer be victims of insurance discrimination and that there will be access to treatment for all Pennsylvania families in the event a mental illness strikes.

In total, 19 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, Tennessee, Texas, and Vermont.