National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Parity In Vermont The Time Is Now


Statement by Laurie M. Flynn, Executive Director
National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI)

Contact: Melissa Wajnert (703) 516-7961
Mary G. Rappaport (703) 312-7886
April 23, 1997

The Vermont Senate has the unique opportunity to rectify a great wrong. For too long, people with severe mental illnesses in the Green Mountain State have been denied adequate health insurance coverage. The state of Vermont this week has the ability to validate in legislation what researchers have proven in science: mental illnesses are brain disorders and treatment works.

Current Vermont law allows health insurers and health maintenance organizations 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.

We applaud Rep. Paul Poirier (D-Barre City), chair of the House Health and Welfare Committee, and Sen. Helen S. Riehle (R-Chittenden), chair of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, for sponsoring "An Act Relating to Health Insurance for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Disorders" (H57). We whole-heartedly support the letter and spirit of the proposed legislation:

A health insurance plan shall not establish any rate, term or condition that places a greater financial burden on an insured 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.

H57 passed the House by a wide margin over a month ago. 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. But time is running out: the legislative session will end on May 2nd. We urge the Vermont Senate to act quickly. Don't let this opportunity pass, when you are in a position to end a significant form of discrimination!

If you do, Vermont would join six other states already on the books as intolerant of insurance discrimination against people with severe mental illnesses (Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Maryland, Minnesota, and Colorado). It is time for Vermont to join this group. We urge the Vermont Senate to pass H57.

NAMI is the nation's largest grassroots organization solelydedicated 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 nondiscriminatory 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 illnesses.