National Alliance on Mental Illness
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(800) 950-NAMI; firstname.lastname@example.org
My name is Jim McNulty. I am president of the National Board of Directors of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI). I also suffer from bipolar disorder (manic depression). I am on the podium today because I am living proof of the profound, positive effects that parity has for people with mental illnesses.
In 1987, when I was first diagnosed, my health insurance plan provided virtually no coverage for treatment of mental illness. I desperately needed psychiatric medications and therapy, but my insurance wouldn't pay for them. I was forced to seek treatment from my primary care physician, who knew nothing about treating manic depression. The negative consequences on my life were traumatic and extreme. I lost my job, my home, and my family. Were it not for the kindness of friends, I would have become homeless.
I can't even begin to explain how devastating the consequences were. And if it happened to me, it can happen to anyone. I had been a successful businessperson. I was an elected Alderman. A family man. All of these roles and identities were lost, because I could not get the treatment I needed for what was a medical illness-as much as diabetes, heart disease or cancer. Had it affected any other part of my body, my insurance would have covered the treatment I needed. But because my illness affected my brain, I was discriminated against. I was denied. I could not get my treatment covered.
Then, in 1994, Rhode Island enacted one of the first parity laws in the nation. Finally, I was able to see a psychiatrist for medication prescription and regular monitoring. I also was able to see a therapist for help in coping with the profound losses I had suffered and the changes that were needed because of my illness. The results of good treatment were rapid. I recovered from the depths of despair. I started a business as a computer consultant. Most importantly, I started to get involved in helping others with similar problems.
I initiated local self-help groups for people with bipolar disorder. I became active in NAMI Rhode Island and the Manic-Depressive and Depressive Association of Rhode Island. In 1999, the Governor of Rhode Island appointed me to the Governor's Council on Mental Health, a statutory body that advises the executive branch of Rhode Island on mental health issues. This past year, as a consumer, a person with a mental illness, I was proud to be elected national board president of NAMI-the nation's voice on mental illness.
I am telling you this not because I want to try to impress anyone with lofty titles. Instead it is to make a point. I could be anyone. There are literally tens of thousands of people with mental illnesses in this country who lead highly productive lives and many more who could if they had access to treatment through adequate insurance coverage.
This year, Congress has the opportunity to follow the recommendations of the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General to end discrimination against mental illnesses in insurance coverage. The cost is modest and outweighed by the benefits. They include decreased hospitalizations or emergency costs and increased productivity. As a society, we already know this. Thirty-four states have passed parity laws and the experiences in those states have demonstrated that parity is cost-effective. Now it's time to cover those Americans who aren't already covered by these laws.
In the last 20 years, scientific progress in understanding and treating mental illness has been phenomenal. Today, we have the ability to diagnose and treat people with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression and severe anxiety disorders as accurately and effectively as other illnesses. People with mental illnesses, their families and advocates know that treatment works, but only if we can get it.
I am humbled and moved as I look out today and see so many people like me rallying for parity. After this rally, we will visit our Representatives to remind them how important parity is and that it is a priority that must be enacted into law this year. President Bush has recognized this fact and pledged his support. Now, it's time for Congress to recognize it too by passing the Domenici-Wellstone mental health parity bill.
No more excuses. No more games. No more backroom deals. Insurance discrimination kills. Parity saves lives. Give Americans the coverage that Members of Congress and other federal workers already have. Invest in recoveries like my own. Invest in our return to productivity. Invest in America's future.