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Statement by Laurie M. Flynn, Executive Director, National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI)
Arlington, VA - The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) today urged the New York Senate to pass the mental health parity bill before the legislature adjourns on Thursday.
"There has been a tremendous outpouring of support by our members in New York State on behalf of this bill," said NAMI executive director Laurie Flynn. "It is time for the Senate leadership to do the right thing: listen to your constituents and pass this bill. The eyes of the nation are on New York."
A parity bill passed the New York Assembly unanimously in February and is now under consideration in the Senate. The Assembly bill, A8315-B, "An Act to Amend the Insurance Law," was sponsored by Assemblyman James Brennan (D-Brooklyn), chair of the mental health committee. The Senate version, S5484A, is sponsored by Senator Thomas W. Libous (R-51).
On May 28th, S5484A passed the Insurance committee - a major stumbling block in the past. Since then, NAMI New York State and other members of the advocacy coalition known as MEND - Mental Health Equality Not Discrimination - have generated a tremendous grassroots effort in support of the bill. Last week, they delivered a petition with more than 8,000 signatures asking the Legislature and Governor George Pataki to end discrimination in health insurance coverage. This followed a statewide series of parity picnics in May, in which more than 3,500 New Yorkers showed their support for parity.
NAMI New York State also recently released a statewide telephone poll conducted by Zogby International which shows that New Yorkers overwhelmingly agree that health insurance policies should treat mental health needs in the same way as other physical illnesses. The poll results show that 91% of New Yorkers who responded agreed with the statement, "health insurance polices should not discriminate in providing coverage for mental health needs." (71% strongly agreed; 20% agreed). Only 4% of those polled disagreed with the statement.
"The poll proved conclusively that New Yorkers will not tolerate discrimination against people with mental illness, and it is time to enact parity law in New York," said Glenn Liebman, executive director of NAMI New York State. "It is time for the Senate to pass S5484A and send it on to the Governor."
"How much more evidence of constituent support for mental health parity do the Senators need," asked NAMI executive director Laurie Flynn. "It is time New York joins the 19 other states that have enacted similar bills."
S5484A, which applies to serious mental illness such as depression, manic depression and schizophrenia, as well as other mental, nervous or emotional disorders, stipulates that coverage for inpatient care, annual deductibles, coinsurance, co-payment requirements, and limits on annual visits and specific dollar amounts be the same for illnesses of the brain as for illnesses in the rest of the body.
In total, 19 states have enacted laws that prohibit health insurance discrimination against people with mental illness: Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Vermont.
NAMI is the nation's largest grassroots organization solely 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 172,000 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.