Statewide Poll Shows 91 Percent Of New Yorkers Want To End Discrimination In Health Insurance Coverage

NAMI Urges New York Senate To Pass Parity Bill

May 13 1998

Arlington, VA - A statewide telephone poll conducted by Zogby International shows that New Yorkers overwhelmingly agree that health insurance policies should treat mental health needs in the same way as other physical illnesses.

The poll results show that 91% of New Yorkers who responded agreed with the statement, “health insurance polices should not discriminate in providing coverage for mental health needs.” Only 4% of those polled disagreed with the statement. Moreover, 57% of New York’s likely voters said they would be willing to pay increased monthly insurance premiums to ensure that their mental health benefits equal their physical health benefits.

The poll was commissioned by NAMI New York and other members of the coalition, Mental Health Equality Not Discrimination (MEND). It was paid for with a grant by NAMI’s Campaign to End Discrimination.

The poll results are being released on the eve of a series of “parity picnics” planned across the state on May 16, 17, and 26 to raise awareness about the need for equitable health insurance coverage for people with mental illness. Thousands of people are expected to participate in the picnics, which take place in Binghamton (May 16), Long Island, New York City, Westchester, Rockland, Buffalo, and Syracuse (May 17) and Albany (May 26).

A parity bill passed the Assembly unanimously in February and is now under consideration in the Senate. The Assembly bill, A8315-B, “An Act to Amend the Insurance Law,” was sponsored by Assemblyman James Brennan (D-Brooklyn), chair of the mental health committee. The Senate version, S5484A, is sponsored by Senator Thomas W. Libous (R-51).

“The poll proves conclusively that New Yorkers will not tolerate discrimination against people with mental illness, and it is time to enact parity law in New York,” said Glenn Liebman, executive director of NAMI New York State. “It is time for the Senate to pass S5484A and send it on to the Governor.”

“As thousands of voters gather at parity picnics across the state this weekend, we urge the New York Senate to pass S5484A,” said NAMI executive director Laurie Flynn. “It is time New York joins the 17 other states that have enacted similar bills.”

In New York, private insurers typically provide a standard benefit limitation of 30 inpatient and 20 outpatient mental health visits per year, and an annual lifetime limit of $100,000. None of these limitations currently exist for physical illness. In addition, insurers routinely require persons with mental disorders to pay higher deductibles, co-payments, and/or co-insurance than persons with other conditions in order to access necessary treatment.

S5484A, which applies to serious mental illness such as depression, manic depression and schizophrenia, as well as other mental, nervous or emotional disorders, stipulates that coverage for inpatient care, annual deductibles, coinsurance, co-payment requirements, and limits on annual visits and specific dollar amounts be the same for illnesses of the brain as for illnesses in the rest of the body.

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.