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

Contact: Melissa Saunders Katz (703) 516-7963
Mary G. Rappaport (703) 312-7886
April 14, 1997

The Pennsylvania legislature has a unique opportunity to rectify a great wrong. The amendment to House Bill 2237 has the ability to validate in legislation what researchers have proven in science: mental illnesses are brain disorders and treatment works.

Approximately 455,000 adults in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania have a severe mental illness in any given year. Discriminating against them in health insurance is unjust. The failure of private insurance to adequately cover mental illnesses shifts the financial burden to the Commonwealth and its taxpayers.

We applaud the leadership of Rep. Thomas P. Gannon (R - Delaware County) and Sen. Joseph M. Uliana (R – Northampton) in sponsoring legislation that would prohibit discrimination against people with severe mental illnesses.

States that already have parity legislation in place have found the increase in premiums to be minimal. A study of New Hampshire insurance companies by the Lewin Group found that the parity law did not cause an increase in premiums after it was implemented in 1995.

Currently, eight states are on the books as intolerant of insurance discrimination against people with severe mental illnesses (Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Texas, and most recently Colorado). It is time to give all people equal access and coverage.

NAMI is the nation's largest grassroots organization dedicated 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.

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