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State Legislative Issues

Before there was Domenici-Wellstone, there were state laws that were the first attempts to end insurance discrimination. The idea was modeled on legislation in the 1960s that prohibited cancer exclusions in insurance coverage. Mental health parity was first successful with state employees in Texas, then in Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Maryland.

The early 1990s saw the passage of parity laws in eight states. Although these laws do not apply to ERISA companies, they give employees some protection and they serve to statistically validate the fact that parity is affordable. After passage of the Domenici-Wellstone law, we saw the passage of eight more state parity laws in 1997 and seven (unfortunately three were vetoed) in 1998. In 1999, 12 more states enacted parity laws, and 5 were signed into law in 2000.

This brings the total number of states with parity laws to 32. Now more than half the population lives in states that require non-discriminatory coverage.

Clearly, the trend to pass state parity legislation is picking up momentum. 31 states have introduced new parity bills this year. NAMI state affiliates will continue to seek out legislative leaders to sponsor parity bills of all types in the states with the ultimate goal of ending all insurance discrimination against those who suffer from mental illnesses. NAMI will continue to provide documentation of the experiences of the states that passed parity laws in the early 1990s and other evidence of the affordability of parity and the effectiveness of treatment. NAMI will seek coverage that is equal to that of other medical conditions covered in each policy written, and we will not turn away from this effort until the discrimination has ceased.

For many of our members, the insurance discrimination was and continues to be unexpected, impoverishing, and humiliating. We believe that lack of care, too frequently caused by lack of or hurdles to coverage, has resulted in unnecessary death and wasted lives of many people with great potential.

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