NAMI Response to Improved Health Coverage

WASHINGTON, Sept. 19-- Early this morning a House-Senate conference committee approved the outlines of a spending bill that includes a landmark provision that requires insurance plans providing mental health benefits to set the same level of yearly and lifetime coverage for these benefits as for other medical services.

"This legislation is vital to stopping rampant discrimination against people with severe mental illness," said Laurie Flynn, executive director of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI). "This decision by the conferees is just the beginning of ending insurance discrimination. Congress has sent a strong message to employers and insurance companies that the days of second-class treatment of people with brain disorders are numbered."

The bill was introduced originally on April 18 Senators Domenici (R-NM) and Wellstone (D-MN) as an ammendment to the Kennedy-Kassebaum Health Reform Bill.  Though it was removed from the bill prior to the President's signing, support has increased since then and it was included in this spending bill. Senator Dominici was very pleased with the inclusion of this piece of legislation saying, "I am proud of the fact that my mental health parity ammendment was accepted. This represents a first step by the Congress to bring the nation to terms with caring for the millions of Americans who suffer from these diseases of the brain."

Sen. Wellstone added, "Millions of American Families will benefit from this very significant move toward parity treatment for people with mental illnesses." NAMI lobbied hard to get this bill passed noting that the treatment success rate for many mental illnessess is higher than many other diseases which have merited more treatment dollars. For example, Schizophrenia has a success rate of 60%, and bipolar disorder a treatment success rate of nearly 80%, yet they are not covered by as many insurence plans as heart disease which only has a success rate of 41-52%. Nearly 5 million Americans each year suffer from an acute mental illness, and with the treatment advances, it became apparant that insurence discrimination had to end.

The need for the amendment originated in the grassroots, and the people's voice fueled the provision's momentum: 79% of Americans supported an end to insurance discrimination, according to a 1996 Beldon & Rossonello study. On September 5, the Senate voted overwhelmingly 82 to l5 for the Domenici- Wellstone amendment. President Clinton expresses strong support for the amendment to House Speaker Newt Gingrich in a letter delivered the morning of September 11th. President Clinton wrote: "People with mental illness have faced discrimination in health insurance coverage for too long." The President continued, "It is time that we take steps to end this inequity." The House voted that same day 392 to 17 to instruct VA/HUD appropriations conferees to include the Domenici-Wellstone amendment as part of the proposed bill.

"An important first step has been achieved toward ending discrimination against people with brain disorders called mental illnesses," commented NAMI President Annie Saylor. "We must not give up until ALL such discrimination has ended."

NAMI, the nonprofit organization representing 140,000 people with serious brain disorders and their families, has been leading a grassroots campaign to end discrimination against severe mental illnesses. NAMI chapters are active at the state and local level in all 50 states.

SOURCE National Alliance for the Mentally Ill -0- 09/19/96 /CONTACT: Melissa Wajnert of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, 703-524-7600/

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