Press Releases

Federal legislation Will End Health Insurance Discrimination

NAMI Hails Landmark Measure as Victory for Millions of  Americans With Severe Mental Illnesses

Feb 25 1999

Arlington, VA - Federal legislation eliminating discriminatory health insurance coverage for individuals with the most severe mental illnesses will be introduced next week, according to the two lead authors of the measure. U.S. Senators Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Paul Wellstone (D-MN) told NAMI and a small group of mental health advocates late yesterday that their bill will ensure greater coverage of mental health benefits by providing full parity for adult and child mental illnesses.

"Families across the United States are cheering today," said Laurie Flynn, executive director of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI). "No longer will a diagnosis of mental illness mean a lifetime of receiving second-class healthcare benefits."

The bill would require equitable health insurance coverage for the most severe, biologically based mental illnesses by prohibiting unequal restrictions on annual and lifetime mental health benefits, inpatient hospital days and outpatient visits, and out-of-pocket expenses. Full insurance parity would be provided for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression, obsessive-compulsive and severe panic disorders, autism, and other severe and disabling mental disorders, such as severe anorexia and severe attention-deficit/hyperactivity. Theses disorders, as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) and scientific advances, would receive full insurance parity.

The proposal would also prohibit limits on inpatient day and outpatient visits for mental health treatment in general.

"We applaud Senators Domenici and Wellstone for their courage and commitment to finishing the important work they began more than two years ago," said Flynn. "This legislation will be a giant step forward in eliminating the double standard held against millions struggling with mental illnesses."

The Mental Health Parity Act of 1996, first introduced by Domenici and Wellstone, required only that annual and lifetime benefits for mental illnesses be equal to that offered for other physical disorders. The current law permits health plans to discriminate by limiting hospital days and outpatient visits, severely affecting the ability of individuals with the most serious and chronic mental illnesses to receive needed medical care.

The new bill, which would apply only to group health plans that already provide mental health benefits, will exempt small businesses with 25 or fewer employees and eliminate the September 31, 2001 sunset provision in the Mental Health Parity Act of 1996.

Senators Domenici and Wellstone yesterday briefed members of the Coalition for Fairness in Mental Illness Coverage on the new legislation. NAMI is a founding member of the Coalition.