Fairness Coalition Calls for Mental Health Parity Law
Noting that May is Mental Health Month, The Coalition for Fairness in Mental Illness Coverage (the “Fairness Coalition”) today called upon Congress to pass “parity” legislation that would require mental health coverage benefits to be identical to benefits for other types of health care.
“Lack of true mental health parity, coupled with ignorance and social stigma about mental illness, means that our nation faces a mental health crisis that will continue to spiral downward with a crippling effect for many Americans, their families, communities and their employers,” notes Pamela Greenberg, chair of the Fairness Coalition. “A comprehensive parity law is more than a decade overdue.”
Ten years ago, Congress approved legislation requiring annual and lifetime dollar limits for mental health coverage to be the same as for other health coverage; and while employers have complied with this law, they have enacted new barriers to mental health treatment. As a result, health plans routinely provide coverage for mental health that is far more limited than coverage for any other illness, and millions of Americans are denied needed care and our country faces a mental health crisis.
According to the Fairness Coalition, opponents of mental health parity long have claimed, without supporting data, that parity would be too costly. However, a recent study in The New England Journal of Medicine – commissioned by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – shows clearly that parity can improve health coverage without increasing overall health care costs.
The President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health reports that one in every two Americans who needs mental health treatment does not receive it. The cost of untreated and mistreated mental health and substance abuse disorders to American businesses, governments and families has grown to $113 billion annually, and untreated mental health needs often lead to decreased job productivity, increased absenteeism and unemployment, and costly emergency room care and hospitalization.
Currently, The Paul Wellstone Mental Health Equitable Treatment Act (H.R. 1402), which the Fairness Coalition supports, has 227 cosponsors. This legislation would end coverage discrimination and provide full parity between mental health coverage and coverage for other illnesses. Companion legislation in the Senate is expected to be introduced soon.
For perspective, Fairness Coalition members refer to Gail Griffith, a mental health advocate and author of Will’s Choice, which uncovers economic challenges facing American families when combating teenage depression. According to Ms. Griffith, her family was fortunate to have the resources necessary to work through her son’s mental health crisis, even though it required “a titanic lift.” “I am tormented by the reality that there are millions of families out there who are not as lucky my own,” she remarks.
About The Coalition for Fairness in Mental Illness Coverage
The Coalition for Fairness in Mental Illness Coverage represents consumers, family members, health professionals, health care systems, and administrators. It consists of the American Hospital Association, American Managed Behavioral Healthcare Association, American Medical Association, American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, Federation of American Hospitals, National Association of Psychiatric Health Systems, National Alliance on Mental Illness and National Mental Health Association.
About the AHA
The AHA is a not-for-profit association of health care provider organizations and individuals that are committed to the health improvement of their communities. The AHA is the national advocate for its members, which include nearly 5,000 hospitals, health care systems, networks, other providers of care and 43,000 individual members. Founded in 1898, the AHA provides education for health care leaders and is a source of information on health care issues and trends. For more information, visit the AHA website at www.aha.org.
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