Wilson Rejects Opportunity to End Discrimination Against Hundreds of Thousands in California with Mental Illness

Sep 29 1998

Arlinton, VA - The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) today blasted Governor Wilson for vetoing AB1100 which would have turned the tide on discrimination against Californians suffering from mental illness. Caving to pressure from the insurance industry, Wilson vetoed the bill after months of negotiations and repeated compromises by bill authors Helen Thomson (D-Davis) and Don Perata (D-Oakland).

“The only thing greater than our anger over Governor Wilson’s veto is our immense sadness,” said Laurie Flynn, Executive Director of NAMI. “With the stroke of a pen, he has allowed insurance policies to continue blocking access to life-saving treatment for thousands of Californians with mental illnesses. Our loved ones will continue suffering as a result of the Governor’s cozy relationship with the well-heeled executives of the insurance industry.”

Governor Wilson’s veto begs the question “why,” in light of the overwhelming support for AB1100 by legislators from both sides of the aisle, major newspaper editorial boards, and thousands across the state who wrote the Governor in favor of this bill.

The veto has broader implications than simply access to care, noted NAMI. It continues the widely-held misconception that mental illnesses are somehow less real, serious, or life-threatening than other biologically based diseases. “We gave the governor the opportunity to make history by ending insurance discrimination against one of the most vulnerable groups in society, people with serious mental illness. Instead, he has left behind an eight year legacy of denial and ignorance while he continues to stigmatize the issue of mental illness,” said Helen Thompson.

Assemblyman Don Perata, who’s sister has long battled schizophrenia, echoed these sentiments. “God gave us the ability to find solutions to mental illness. It is no longer a witch doctor’s craft. It is possible to re-salvage human beings. We have an obligation to do that.”

The bill would have required HMOs and insurers to provide coverage for biologically based severe mental illnesses. Said Assemblyman Tom Woods (R-Shasta), who was part of the large bipartisan support for AB1100, “Ninety percent of everything we know about the human brain we’ve learned in the last 20 years and what we have learned is this is treatable—that it’s a solvable problem and ignoring it won’t fix it.”

One in five families in California will be struck by severe mental illness. Many governors, including Governor George W. Bush, Jr. of Texas, who signed his state’s parity bill into law in 1997, recognize that insurance parity for mental illness is sound and humane public policy. In total, 19 states 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.