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Largest Advocacy Group On Mental Illness Looks To White House Conference To Provide "National Baseline" For Progress; CHAMPUS And Medicare Also Cited
The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) has called on President Clinton to take executive action to require private contractors doing business with the federal government to guarantee equal coverage of mental illnesses in health insurance plans they provide their own employees.
The action follows the Administration's announcement that mental health parity will be required under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan (FEHBP) and occurs as the White House Conference on Mental Health prepares to convene on June 7th.
In a June 2nd letter to the President, NAMI Executive Director Laurie Flynn wrote: "Because the FEHBP serves as a model for much of the healthcare industry, the initiative represents an important step forward in seeking to establish parity for all private health insurance plans. It also offers an opportunity to consider additional expansions of parity through other programs administered by the federal government."
Specifically, NAMI has asked that the Administration's expansion of FEHBP coverage include the Civilian Health & Medical Program of the Uniformed Services (CHAMPUS), which serves military families and retirees, and "all private contractors who do business with the federal government."
NAMI also has asked the President to include provisions to cover mental illnesses "consistent with the standards of the FEHBP initiative" in Administration legislation still being developed to strengthen Medicare.
Calling mental health parity "no less than a civil rights issue which deserves to be advanced on all possible fronts, through all possible government action," Flynn---who with other NAMI leaders will attend the White House conference----expressed hope that the event ultimately will help lead to Congressional action "to enact full parity for severe mental illnesses in private health insurance" as well as define "a national baseline of measures that can be achieved immediately in order to build a foundation for greater progress in the 21st Century." Since 1991, a growing, national bipartisan movement has resulted in 23 states passing private sector parity laws---about half of which have been signed by Republican governors, including George Bush (TX), James Gilmore (VA) and Christine Todd Whitman (NJ).
June 2, 1999
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President:
As the nation's largest grassroots organization dedicated to helping persons with severe mental illnesses, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) applauded the announcement last week that you intend to require health insurance coverage for mental illnesses for federal employees and their families.
Because the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) serves as a model for much of the rest of the healthcare industry, the initiative represents an important step forward in seeking to establish parity for all private health insurance plans. It also offers an opportunity to consider additional expansions of parity through other programs directly administered by the federal government.
First, we ask that you include the Civilian Health & Medical Program of the Uniformed Services (CHAMPUS) in the expansion of coverage you are initiating with the FEHBP. Second, we ask that as the Administration develops legislation to protect Medicare for future generations, provisions be included to cover mental illnesses consistent with the standards of the FEHBP initiative.
Parity is about more than insurance coverage. It also represents an end to discrimination against persons who struggle with biological brain disorders through no fault of their own. NAMI therefore view parity as no less than a civil rights issue which deserves to be advanced on all possible fronts, through all possible government actions. We hope that the upcoming White House Conference on Mental Health will lead to Congressional action to enact full parity for severe mental illnesses in private health insurance, but separately, we ask that you extend the parity requirements established for the FEHBP program to all private contractors who do business with the federal government. Federal contractors should be required to certify coverage of mental illnesses as part of the health insurance plans that they provide their employees. Executive action of this nature would represent an important, further step forward.
NAMI looks to the White House Conference on Mental Health to define a common, national baseline of measures that can be achieved immediately, in order to build a foundation for greater progress in the 21st Century. We hope you will consider our request in that same spirit and light. We appreciate the steps you already have taken toward this goal.
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