National Alliance on Mental Illness
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October 31, 2001

Senate Passes Parity -- Effort to End Insurance Discrimination Shifts to the House

By a unanimous voice vote, the U.S. Senate last night passed full insurance parity legislation as an amendment to an unrelated spending bill covering the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education (HR 3061/S 1536). This action again puts the Senate on record in support of non-discriminatory insurance coverage of treatment for mental illness. The effort to enact full parity legislation this year now shifts to the House of Representatives, which has historically been less receptive to efforts to establish federal standards for health insurance coverage.

Action Required

NAMI advocates are now strongly encouraged to begin contacting House members to urge them to support adding parity legislation to the final version of the FY 2002 Labor-HHS-Education spending bill (HR 3061). Since full parity legislation is now an amendment to this "must pass" bill it is particularly important for members of the House Appropriations Committee to hear from NAMI advocates about the need to pass full parity legislation in 2001. Of particular importance will be the House-Senate "conferees" who will determine whether or not parity is included in the final version of HR 3061 that will be sent to the President to be signed into law. While these members of the House-Senate Conference Committee have not been officially named, they are expected to be:

Senate: Robert Byrd (D-WV), Thad Cochran (R-MS), Larry Craig (R-ID), Mike DeWine (R-OH), Judd Gregg (R-NH), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Ernest Hollings (D-SC), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Daniel Inouye (D-HI), Herb Kohl (D-WI), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Harry Reid (D-NV), Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Ted Stevens (R-AK).

House: Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Escondido, CA), Rosa DeLauro (D-New Haven, CT), Kay Granger (R-Ft. Worth, TX), Steny Hoyer (D-Greenbelt/Waldorf, MD), Ernest Istook (R-Oklahoma City, OK), Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-Chicago/Homewood, IL), Patrick Kennedy (D-Woonsocket/Newport, RI), Nita Lowey, (D-White Plains, NY), Dan Miller (R-Sarasota/Bradenton, FL), Anne M. Northup (R-Louisville, KY), David Obey (D-Superior/Wausau, WI), Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco, CA), John Peterson (R-State College, PA), Ralph Regula (R-Canton, OH), Don Sherwood (R-Scranton, PA), Roger Wicker (R-Tupelo, MS) and C.W. "Bill" Young (R-St. Petersburg, FL).

NAMI advocates in these states and communities are particularly encouraged write and call these members of Congress. The House completed action on its version of HR 3061 on October 11. The Senate is expected to complete action on its version by week's end. Both the President and House and Senate leaders will be pushing to complete action on the Labor-HHS-Education spending bill as quickly as possible. Thus, time is of the essence.

All House and Senate offices can be reached by calling the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121  and linking to "Write to Congress." However, the recent discovery of anthrax in several congressional office buildings has significantly disrupted the operation of many House and Senate offices - especially mail delivery and phone operations. At the same time, all local district offices of House members and Senators remain fully operational. Therefore, NAMI advocates are strongly encouraged to contact the district offices for their members of Congress that are listed in the Federal Government sections of the "Blue Pages" in local phone books. NAMI advocates choosing to send a e-mail are encouraged to include their local address to ensure that staff understand that call to support S 543 is coming from a constituent.

"Talking Points" on Parity

In contacting members of Congress in support of parity, please remind them that:

  • mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and severe anxiety disorders are real illnesses,
  • treatment works - if consumers and their families can get it (treatment efficacy rates for most severe mental illnesses exceed those for heart disease and diabetes),
  • there is simply no scientific or medical justification for insurance coverage of mental illness treatment to be on different terms and conditions than other diseases,
  • discriminatory insurance coverage of mental illness bankrupts families and places a tremendous burden on taxpayers,
  • parity is affordable - the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that S 543 will increase insurance premiums by less than 1% (a finding that is consistent with numerous previous studies that demonstrate how non-discriminatory coverage is economical and results in better treatment outcomes),
  • 34 states have enacted parity laws similar to S 543, but even these laws offer no protection for workers and their families that receive coverage through self-insured ERISA plans, and
  • renewing the 1996 Mental Health Parity Act for an indefinite period would wipe out an important opportunity to end insurance discrimination against people with mental illnesses once and for all.

Details on Senate Passage of S 543

As was noted in an E-News sent out yesterday, parity was offered as an amendment put forward by Senators Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Paul Wellstone (D-MN) on the FY 2002 Labor-HHS-Education spending bill. Their amendment is nearly identical to the previous version of the Mental Health Equitable Treatment Act (S 543) that was approved by the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee on August 1. In order to accommodate the Senate's complicated rules governing germaneness of amendments and budget process, Senators Domenici and Wellstone were forced to put off the effective date for parity until January 1, 2003. More importantly, an expected amendment to create a cost increase exemption was NOT offered by senators seeking to undermine the objectives of parity. Otherwise, all of the protections in S 543 remain intact - including key requirements for health plans to eliminate all discriminatory limits on inpatient and outpatient treatment and all discriminatory enrollee cost sharing obligations.