National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Parity Becomes Law in Vermont
NAMI Applauds Courage of Governor and Legislature
Montpelier, VT - Vermont Governor Howard Dean today took a significant step towards ending insurance discrimination against people with brain disorders. Governor Dean signed "An Act Relating to Health Insurance for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Disorders" (H57), the broadest and most comprehensive of the parity bills that have passed so far this year.
Vermont now joins 13 other states including New England neighbors Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island that have taken legislative action against insurance discrimination. Parity bills are also currently being considered in a number of other states such as California, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.
Until now, Vermont law allowed health insurers and health maintenance organizations (HMO) to sell policies with arbitrary benefit limits for mental health problems: as little as $500 per year for outpatient treatment; $2,500 per year for total coverage and a $10,000 lifetime maximum.
The new law, which will take effect January 1, 1998, provides that a health insurance plan shall not establish any rate, term or condition that places a greater financial burden on an insured person for access to treatment for a mental health condition than for access to treatment for a physical health condition. Any deductible or out-of-pocket limits required under a health insurance plan shall be comprehensive for coverage of both mental health and physical health conditions.
"It's about time the brain was treated like the heart when it comes to insurance coverage," said Ben Coplan, executive director of the Alliance for the Mentally Ill of Vermont, one of the leading advocates in the effort to achieve parity. Ken Libertoff, Executive Director of the Vermont Association of Mental Health, and Peter Youngbaer, executive director of the Vermont Coalition of Disabilities, worked tirelessly as well. These three organizations were part of a statewide coalition that supported the bill.
"Vermont has broken new ground in building a secure future for people who at one time thought there was no future," said Laurie M. Flynn, Executive Director of NAMI. "State leaders have helped to validate in legislation what researchers have proven in science -- mental illnesses are brain disorders and treatment works."
It is particularly appropriate that Governor Dean should sign this bill into law. Not only is Governor Dean a physician who understands the medical nature of brain disorders, but he also has long been supportive of efforts to end discrimination against people with such illnesses. Back in 1985, when he was a state legislator from Burlington, then Representative Dean supported one of the first bills in Vermont to end insurance discrimination.
Representative Paul Poirier (D-Barre City), Chair of the House Health and Welfare Committee, and Senator Helen S. Riehle (R-Chittenden), Chair of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, sponsored this legislation. H57 passed the House by a wide margin in January and passed the Senate by 27 to 1 in April.
A poll published by the Rutland Daily Herald in late January showed that 81 percent of Vermont residents thought insurance companies should provide the same coverage for mental illness as for other illnesses.
NAMI is the nation's largest grassroots organization solely dedicated to improving the lives of persons with severe mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness), major depression, and anxiety disorders. NAMI has more than 140,000 individual members and 1,140 state and local affiliates in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Canada. NAMI's efforts focus on support to persons with serious brain disorders and to their families; advocacy for non-discriminatory and equitable federal and state policies; research into the causes, symptoms and treatments for brain disorders; and education to eliminate the pervasive stigma toward severe mental illness.
"Open Your Mind, Mental Illnesses Are Brain Disorders." NAMI's Campaign to End Discrimination is a five-year effort to end discrimination in insurance, housing, and employment