National Alliance on Mental Illness
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December 19, 2001

House-Senate Conference Committee Votes Down Domenici-Wellstone Parity Amendment

Despite overwhelming support for mental illness parity within Congress and from the American public, a House-Senate Conference Committee last night refused to add the measure to the final FY 2002 Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill (HR 3061). Conferees representing the House, opposed efforts to add the Senate parity amendment - sponsored by Senators Pete Domenci (R-NM) and Paul Wellstone (D-MN) - to the final version of HR 3061 which is now on its way to the White House for President Bush’s expected signature.

During last night’s meeting of the House-Senate Conference Committee on HR 3061, House Conferees did take a recorded vote on a motion offered by Representative Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) to accept the Domenici-Wellstone amendment. This motion failed on a straight party line vote of 7-10. During debate on the parity amendment, Senator Domenici made a passionate appeal to House members to accept the Senate amendment, making specific note of the importance of parity to consumers and families that live everyday with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

House members voting in favor of parity were: David Obey (D-WI), Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Nita Lowey (D-NY), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL) and Patrick Kennedy (D-RI).

House members voting against parity were: Ralph Regula (R-OH), C.W. Young (R- FL), Ernest Istook (R-OK), Dan Miller (R-FL), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Anne M. Northup (R-KY), Randy Cunningham (R-CA), Kay Granger (R-TX), John Peterson (R- PA) and Don Sherwood (R-PA).

After the House formally rejected the Domenici-Wellstone amendment, members approved a motion offered by Representative Cunningham to extend the recently expired 1996 Mental Health Parity Act for an additional year. This 1996 law requires health plans to meet a standard parity only for annual and lifetime dollar limits - far short of the Domenici-Wellstone amendment’s standard of full parity. This one-year extension of 1996 law is expected to be signed into law as par of HR 3061.

It is important to note that the House Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Conferees that voted “no” on parity last night did so under intense pressure from the House Republican leadership and the chairs of several key House committees. It is these members who played a leadership role in keeping parity out of the final Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill: House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL), Majority Leader Richard Armey (R-TX), Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-TX), Republican Conference Chairman J.C. Watts (R-OK), Education and the Workforce Chairman John Boehner (R-OH), Energy and Commerce Chairman W.J. Tauzin (R-LA) and Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-CA). This opposition occurred despite the fact that more than half the House (244 members) had either cosponsored parity legislation, or signed letters in support of the Domenci-Wellstone amendment being in the Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill.

NAMI advocates that are constituents of these members are strongly encouraged to contact these members to express praise/outrage for their support/opposition to parity.

The final Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill (HR 3061) that is now on its way to the White House (without parity) does include a $1.2 billion increase in funding for research at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). In addition, the final version of HR 3061 includes more than $50 million in increases for services at the Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS). .

Next Steps on Parity

Last night’s action likely brings to an unsuccessful conclusion one of NAMI’s most intensive legislative advocacy efforts. Even though parity will not pass in 2001 as part of the Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill, several members of Congress are making last minute efforts to develop a compromise on parity that could be added to a separate economic stimulus package that the House is expected to act on tomorrow. Leading the charge to rescue parity in the few remaining days of the current congressional session is Representative Nancy Johnson (R-CT). Unfortunately, time is running short, and the prospects for the economic stimulus package is in doubt given current differences between Senate Democrats and President Bush.

Despite this painful setback, NAMI will continue to place the highest priority on passage of federal parity legislation that will once and for all end insurance discrimination against individuals with severe mental illnesses and their families. Key supporters of parity in both the House and Senate have made clear to NAMI that they will be back next year to press their colleagues and President Bush to support passage of parity legislation in 2002.

Thank You NAMI Advocates!

The past six weeks have seen an unprecedented campaign on the part of NAMI members and affiliates (and especially NAMI members and affiliates in the districts of key House members) to get the Domenici-Wellstone amendment into the final Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill. In states and communities across the country, NAMI advocates held rallies, letter writing campaigns and press conferences, wrote editorials and met directly with members of Congress.

The entire NAMI Board of Directors and NAMI national and state affiliate staff would like to extend deep gratitude to every NAMI advocate that took the time to make phone call, write a letter, meet with their member of Congress or reach out to the press in support of parity. These efforts were not wasted, despite the current demise of federal parity legislation. Every effort to educate members of Congress, their staffs and the general public about mental illness and the need to end insurance discrimination will pay tangible dividends down the road. These efforts will ensure that Congress and President Bush will take up parity in 2002.

Read the Statement from NAMI Executive Director Richard C. Birkel, Ph.D. on actions by the House-Senate Conference Committee on the Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill.