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Statement of Laurie M. Flynn, Executive Director National Alliance for the Mentally Ill
Arlington, VA. - Americans with severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression and anxiety disorders should be profoundly grateful today to Senators Jim Jeffords (R-VT), Ted Kennedy (D-MA), Bill Roth (R-DE) and Pat Moynihan (D-NY) for their joint sponsorship of legislation that will remove the fear of losing federal health benefits as a barrier to work.
NAMI also thanks President Bill Clinton and Vice-President Al Gore for supporting the initiative and agreeing to include it in the Administration's budget proposal for FY2000.
The Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999 will permit States to allow people with disabilities to buy health insurance through Medicaid even if their incomes or medical improvement make them otherwise ineligible. People with disabilities earning above federal income restrictions will be able to secure affordable health care coverage by buying into Medicaid. Similarly, the bill will permit States to allow people who receive support because of health impairments to continue Medicaid coverage after their medical condition improves and they are able to return to work.
The legislation will liberate many Americans with disabilities. It will empower them and strengthen self-esteem. It will help to restore individual dignity in the mainstream of American life. Persons with severe mental illnesses require continuity of care to sustain recovery and renewal.
Those who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) payments must not face the threat of losing federal health care benefits in order to work. In 1993, approximately six million Americans received SSI assistance; approximately 28 percent of whom were disabled by mental disorders other than retardation. Approximately five million Americans received SSDI assistance, 26 percent of whom were disabled by mental illness. Unfortunately, too many adults with severe mental illnesses who receive SSI and SSDI have been trapped in those programs because of the disincentives to work that currently exist, particularly the threat of losing healthcare coverage.
NAMI applauds the bipartisanship that has made the introduction of this legislation possible, and looks forward to Senate Finance Committee action on the bill later during the session.
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