National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Arlington, VA - NAMI members will arrive by the busload Thursday, June 6th from New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and other states for a noon rally on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol. The date is a coincidence, but for about 1000 people with mental illnesses, family members and friends, the event indeed is a bit like D-Day.
After the rally, they will move in waves to the House of Representatives in what they hope will be the final push for legislation to end unfair discrimination against mental illnesses in health insurance plans.
"This is D-Day for us," said Rick Birkel, executive director of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), a member of the coalition of mental health groups organizing the event. "The stakes are that high. For millions of Americans , insurance coverage of mental illnesses can mean the difference between life and death, between financial ruin and getting adequate treatment for children, or between homelessness and recovery."
Speakers at the rally will include Senators Pete Domenici (R-NM), Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Paul Wellstone (D-MN); U.S. Representatives Marge Roukema (R-NJ) and Patrick Kennedy (R-RI); and NAMI President Jim McNulty, who successfully has battled bipolar disorder.
In December 2001, leaders in the House of Representatives killed a provision in an appropriations bill that would have enacted S. 543, introduced by Domenici and Wellstone. Passed by the Senate, a majority of House members were on record in support of the legislation-which would give other Americans the same mental health coverage that Members of Congress and other federal workers already get. On April 29, 2002, President George W. Bush pledged to work for legislation that can be enacted this year. "We must give all Americans who suffer from mental illness the treatment and respect they deserve," he declared.
But even the President's support may not be enough.
"There are always a powerful few who can block or water down a bill," Birkel said. "That's what happened in December."
"Opponents argue that parity costs too much, but that's not true," he continued, "Independent studies show the average cost to be less than one percent of existing health insurance coverage. The cost also needs to balanced against benefits, and the risks of untreated illness."
"For employers, parity means greater productivity and lower costs from related physical illnesses. For someone who can't get help, the risks include suicide. With one out of five Americans experiencing mental illness at some point in their lives-and suicide being the third largest cause of death for teenagers and young adults-America can't afford not to have parity. It is a prudent investment in everyone's future."
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Speakers will be available for media interviews following the rally, Thursday, June 6, 2002, behind the stage at the West Front. In case of severe rain or thunderstorms, a news conference will be held at noon in Room 419 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building.
NAMI Legislative Director Andrew Sperling also will be available by cell phone for on-the-record interviews : 703-675-7084.