For many people who cope with mental illness, 1998
will mean a new beginning in more than one way.
Healthcare payers are being compelled to treat mental
illness with the same coverage benefits as physical
Effective Jan. 1, the Mental Health Parity Act of 1996
took effect, ushering in a new way of thinking about--and
treating--mental illness. The law requires annual and
lifetime benefits for mental illness to equal benefits offered
for other physical disorders. But employers may be
exempted from providing that coverage if their costs rise
more than 1 percent stemming from compliance with the
law, according to a statement released by the National
Alliance for the Mentally Ill.
"The days of being cast as second-class citizens from a
healthcare system historically indifferent to their needs are
over, " said NAMI executive director Laurie Flynn.
"American families in communities large and small who are
coping with the devastating effects of severe mental
illnesses can breathe a little easier knowing their loved
ones are covered by insurance. This modest
anti-discrimination law eliminates the double standard held
against millions suffering from brain disorders and gives
them renewed hope for reestablishing full and productive
Considerable debate over the merits and cost of providing
such coverage have been the topic in medical circles
nationwide since the proposal became law. Yet, despite
pressure applied by special interest groups, companies
seem to be ready to "embrace " the mental illness parity
requirement, the alliance said.
Researchers at the Rand Corporation and the University of
California at Los Angeles found that mental health benefits
would not add significantly to insurers' costs, concluding
that parity will increase expenses by only $ 1 per
employee each year.
A NAMI survey conducted by William M. Mercer Inc.
indicated little resistance by employers to comply with the
new law, with 85 percent of businesses familiar with the
law either in compliance or planning to make changes to
comply with the law by the end of 1998.
NAMI represents 168,000 members. The grassroots
organization focuses on improving the lives of persons with
severe mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, bipolar
disorder (manic-depressive illness), major depression,
obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety disorders.
NAMI has more than 1,140 state and local affiliates in all
50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and