Mental Health Parity: Benefits Outweigh Costs and Risks of Untreated Illnesses | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness

Posted on July 23, 2002

The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) thanks Chairman Billy Tauzin of the Committee on Energy & Commerce and Representative Michael Bilarakis, chairman of the Health Subcommittee, and their colleagues, for convening today's hearing on insurance coverage of mental illness. As the nation's largest organization representing children and adults with mental illnesses, NAMI is pleased to help shed light on how current health insurance plans discriminate against individuals with mental illnesses and their families.

NAMI hopes that today's hearing will shed light on the strong, established scientific consensus regarding mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression and anxiety disorders:

  • Mental illnesses are real
  • Treatment works- if you can get it. Indeed the treatment efficacy rates for mental illness exceed those for heart disease.
  • There is no scientific or economic justification for a health plan to cover treatment for mental illness on terms that are different for other illnesses. The benefits exceed any economic cost, and the risks of untreated mental illness, especially among children, are too great to accept or allow.

On April 29, 2002, President Bush pledged to work with House leaders to pass mental health parity-this year. "Millions of Americans are impaired at work, at school, or at home by episodes of mental illness," he declared. "Many are disabled by severe and persistent mental problems. These illnesses affect individuals, they affect their families, and they affect our country. Our country must make a commitment...They deserve a health care system that treats their illness with the same urgency as a physical illness."

One out of five Americans are affected by mental illness. No one is immune. That means the same kind of parity is needed that currently covers Members of Congress and other federal employees and their families.

Parity coverage is right. It is fair. It is also cost-effective. Untreated mental illness costs the nation $113 billion annually. It ends up adding to inefficient, costly care of physical ailments. It hurts the nation's economy through lost productivity. The benefits of treatment exceed the relatively small cost of parity-less than 1 percent of current premiums.

Insurance discrimination also kills. Almost all suicides result from mental illness, and suicide today is the third-leading cause of death among teens and young adults. Lack of parity is unacceptable. As a nation, we must invest in treatment and recovery, rather than abandonment, death and suffering.

To quote President Bush: "We must work for a welcoming and compassionate society where no American is dismissed and no American is forgotten…We must give all Americans who suffer from mental illness the treatment and the respect they deserve".

NAMI thanks those members of Congress-including the majority of House members-who support our efforts to end insurance discrimination against people with mental illnesses and their families. We are especially grateful to those members of the Health Subcommittee of the House Energy & Commerce Committee who have cosponsored full parity legislation.

In particular, NAMI salutes Jim Greenwood (R-PA), Charlie Norway (R-GA), Heather Wilson (R-NM), Robert Ehrlich (R-MD), John Dingell (D-MI), Henry Waxman (D-CA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ted Strickland (D-OH), Tom Barrett (D-WI), Lois Capps (D-CA), Ed Towns (D-NY), Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Peter Deutsch (D-FL), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Bart Stupak (D-MI), Elliot Engel (D-NY), Albert Wynn (D-MD) and Gene Green (D-TX). We look forward to working with them and others to make passage of the legislation a reality in 2002.


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