NAMI Commends Senate for Convening Hearing on Mental Health Parity

Statement by Jacqueline Shannon, Board President The National Alliance For The Mentally Ill (NAMI)

Jul 11 2001

On behalf of our 220,000 members and 1,200 affiliates, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) applauds the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, specifically Chairman Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH), for convening today's hearing on mental illness parity.

NAMI strongly advocates for the passing of parity laws to end discriminatory health insurance coverage for children and adults with severe mental illnesses and their families. Such legislation will strengthen current federal law and finish the work that Congress began five years ago with the Mental Health Parity Act of 1996.

As our nation's largest organization representing children and adults with severe mental illnesses and their families, NAMI would like to thank Chairman Kennedy and Senator Gregg for holding this hearing on mental illness parity legislation. NAMI enthusiastically supports S 543 and the bipartisan efforts of Senators Domenici and Wellstone to end discrimination in health insurance. This bill is a move in the right direction towards the understanding that mental illnesses are brain disorders¾and therefore deserving of the same insurance coverage granted for all physical illnesses.

No one ever expects to be struck by mental illness, but one in five families are. It is necessary for insurers to cover severe mental illnesses which are biologically-based brain disorders the same way they cover physical illnesses. Without offering equal treatment, the cost and/or stigma associated with mental illness often prevents those in need from seeking help.

Untreated mental illness can cause employees to lose interest in their jobs, reduce productivity, increase absenteeism, and even harbor thoughts of suicide. With parity coverage provided by S 543, however, businesses benefit through reduced absenteeism, reduced healthcare costs for physical ailments related to mental illnesses, increased overall productivity, and increased employee morale. NAMI members have worked very hard over the past decade to ensure that the majority of Americans live in states that have parity laws¾32 states currently have such laws, with others expected to follow shortly.

NAMI would especially like to thank members of the Senate HELP Committee who are cosponsors of S 543: Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), Christopher Dodd (D-CT), John Edwards (D-NC), Tom Harkin (D-IA), James Jeffords (I-VT), Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Jack Reed (D-RI), Pat Roberts (R-KS), and John Warner (R-VA). Their work will help ensure that treatment for severe mental illnesses is covered on the same terms and conditions as that for all other diseases.

Mental illnesses are brain disorders, and treatment works -- if you can get it. With the October 1, 2001 sunset of the 1996 federal law quickly approaching, NAMI's 210,000 members and 1,200 affiliates urge the Senate to act now.