National Alliance on Mental Illness
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January 24, 2002

U.S. House of Representatives Poised to Act on Mental Illness Parity Legislation - NAMI Grassroots Action Needed

As NAMI advocates know, federal legislation to end insurance discrimination against children and adults with severe mental illnesses was rejected by the House in the closing days of the 2001 congressional session. The Senate had attached parity legislation (S 543) to the FY 2002 Labor-HHS-Education spending bill (HR 3061), but this amendment was rejected at the urging of key House leaders (further details on the defeat of parity in 2001 is available)

2002 brings a new opportunity for NAMI advocates to push for federal parity legislation. In rejecting parity late last year, the leaders of several key House committees pledged to convene hearings on insurance discrimination in 2002. This action was also directed by language included in the final version of HR 3061 that President Bush recently signed into law. Specifically, this language notes:
"The conferees recognize the devastating impact of mental illnesses on Americans from every walk of life and the widespread bipartisan support of mental health parity legislation in both houses of Congress. The conferees strongly urge the committees of jurisdiction in the House and the Senate to convene early hearings and undertake swift consideration of legislation to extend and improve mental health parity protections during the second session of the 107th Congress." H.Rpt. 107-342.

Despite this clear direction to the House committees that have jurisdiction over parity, grassroots action on the part of NAMI consumer and family advocates is needed to make hearings and eventual legislative action on parity a reality. There are three separate committees in the House that have legislative jurisdiction over federal parity:

  • Education & the Workforce (parity requires an amendment to the federal ERISA law that governs self-insured health plans)
  • Energy & Commerce (parity requires an amendment to the federal Public Health Service Act that sets standards for fully insured health plans), and
  • Ways & Means (parity requires an amendment to the tax code in order to ensure meaningful enforcement on health plans).
While each of these House Committees plans to hold separate hearings, each will do so on its own schedule. Since House rules provide wide discretion to the chair of standing committees as to whether and when hearings are held, it is incumbent on NAMI advocates to press both the chairs of these committees, and their individual members, to move forward expeditiously on parity hearings in 2002.

Members of Congress respond most readily to pressure from their own constituents. It is therefore critically important that the members of these three House committees hear directly from NAMI advocates and affiliates about the importance holding hearings on mental illness insurance parity as soon as possible.

Click on the following links to see the rosters of the following House Committees and the communities they represent:

NAMI advocates and affiliate leaders living in these communities are strongly urged to send the attached sample letters supporting hearings on mental illness parity.