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  NAMI Urges Virginia Governor Gilmore To Make
History By Signing Parity Law

Governor To Resist Replacing One Form of Discrimination With
Another Through Small-Business Exemption


Contact:
Bob Carolla 703-524-7600
Val Marsh 804-225-8264
For Immediate Release
19 Mar 99

ARLINGTON, VA. - The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) has called on Virginia Governor James Gilmore to sign legislation passed overwhelmingly by the Virginia General Assembly to end discrimination in health insurance coverage for people with mental illnesses.

If Gilmore signs the law, Virginia will be the first state to enact such a bill in 1999 and the 20th overall with a parity law.

In a letter to the governor, NAMI Executive Director Laurie Flynn noted that the Gilmore administration has been willing to tackle difficult mental health issues and that NAMI's Virginia affiliate honored the governor in February 1999 for his compassionate leadership. "The time to sign SB 430 is now," Flynn said. "Along with other actions, your signature will light a beacon for the rest of the nation."

Flynn warned the governor against replacing "one form of discrimination with another," such as an exemption for businesses with 50 or fewer employees. "Too many Virginians would be left without adequate insurance coverage."

Evidence also is mounting that mental health parity is both affordable and cost effective," Flynn said, citing a 1998 report by the National Mental Healthy Advisory Council. Under managed care, the report concluded, full parity increases total healthcare costs by less than one percent a year. When parity is implemented in conjunction with managed care, health insurance plans are able to reduce costs by as much as 50 percent.

The full text of NAMI's letter to Governor Gilmore follows:

March 19, 1999

The Honorable James M. Gilmore
Governor of Virginia
Richmond, Virginia 23219

Dear Governor Gilmore:

The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) asks that you swiftly sign into law SB 430 to end discrimination in health insurance coverage for people with severe mental illnesses.

Approved by the Virginia General Assembly by overwhelming margins, the bill represents an historic opportunity to help Virginians in all walks of life and to help lead the nation. As the first state to enact a parity law in 1999, Virginia would be the 20th state overall to end discrimination that for too long has denied persons with mental illnesses adequate care and contributed to the stigma of mental illness. Other states that have passed parity laws include Arkansas, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.

Mental illnesses are biological brain disorders. In any given year, more than five million Americans suffer from them. Your support of SB 430 will validate what medical science already has proven: that treatment works. Virginians need access to treatment for mental illnesses just as they do for cancer, diabetes or heart disease. Without timely, effective treatment, the end result can be disastrous---and ultimately more costly---for individuals, families, and communities.

We ask that you resist entreaties to replace one form of discrimination with another: such as an "exemption" for businesses with 50 or less employees. Too many Virginians would remain without adequate coverage. Evidence also is mounting that mental health parity is both affordable and cost-effective. In 1998, the National Advisory Mental Health Council, in the most recent federal report on costs, concluded that under managed care, full parity increases total healthcare costs by less than one percent a year. Indeed, plans that implement parity in conjunction with managed care actually are able to reduce costs by as much as 30 to 50 percent.

As the nation's largest grassroots organization dedicated to helping persons with mental illnesses, NAMI has been pleased by your administration's willingness to tackle difficult mental health problems. We are proud that NAMI Virginia honored you in February for your compassionate leadership. The time to sign SB 430 is now. Along with other actions, your signature will light a beacon for the rest of the nation.

Sincerely,

Laurie Flynn
Executive Director

 


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