Press Releases

NAMI Urges Puerto Rico Senate To Remove Barriers To Fair Medical Treatment

Pass Parity Bill And End Discrimination Against People With Severe Mental Illnesses

Jun 24 1998

Arlington, VA - NAMI calls on Puerto Rico Senate leaders to end insurance discrimination against people with mental illness and pass the “Equal Treatment in Mental Health Services In Puerto Rico” bill (Senate Bill 1140) without delay. The landmark parity legislation, introduced by Senator Norma Carranza, M.D., chair of the Senate’s Health Committee, requires all public and private group health plans to provide coverage for any condition or disorder involving mental illness, alcohol or substance abuse, under the same terms and conditions as coverage for other physical illnesses. Members of Puerto Rico’s Senate are scheduled to vote on this historic legislation tomorrow.

"We cannot, in good conscience, allow families struggling with mental illness to continue one day longer without the protection afforded to others with equally debilitating physical illnesses," said Laurie Flynn, executive director of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI). "I urge the Senate to stand with those suffering with mental illness and reject health insurance discrimination. If SB 1140 is not passed, the Senate will be turning their backs on the one in five Puerto Rican families directly affected by mental illness."

Studies repeatedly show that granting access to medical treatment for biologically based mental illness results in little to no increase in premium costs. It is also well known that not treating mental illness can result in millions of dollars of lost productivity and earnings, and premature death. Should the Senate not pass SB 1140, they will be giving their tacit approval for discrimination against Puerto Rican families to continue.

“For too long, people with treatable mental illnesses have been denied access to medical care due to discriminatory insurance policies,” said Silvia J. Pedrosa de Arias, Ph.D., president of NAMI Puerto Rico and member of NAMI’s national board of directors. “Unlike physical illnesses, most insurers place severe restrictions on services for mental illnesses and impose unrealistic spending caps for treatment needs. Some offer no coverage at all. Passage of SB 1140 will ensure that families who cope with mental illness will no longer be victims of insurance discrimination and that there will be access to treatment for all Puerto Rican families in the event a mental illness strikes.”

Flynn noted that just last month the Hay Group, an actuarial and benefits consulting firm in Washington, DC, released a study that showed that behavioral health care benefits have been slashed 670 percent more than general health care benefit costs over the past 10 years (1988-97). And while the value of general health care benefits has declined 7 percent in that period, the value of behavioral health care has declined 54 percent. The study was commissioned by NAMI, the National Association of Psychiatric Health Systems, which represents the nation's behavioral health care provider organizations, and the Association of Behavioral Group Practices, which works collaboratively with NAPHS on advocacy issues.

"The erosion of health care benefits for mental illness has got to stop," Flynn said. "Unfair treatment of those with heart disease, cancer, or other serious physical illnesses would not be tolerated in Puerto Rico. By passing Senate Bill 1140, the Puerto Rico Senate will send a strong message that discrimination against people with mental illness must finally end. We strongly urge the Puerto Rico Senate to promptly pass this life-saving legislation."

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.