Issue: Mental Health Parity - Page 2

What is parity?

By Katy Clark

Continued from page one...

These bills required that if employers offered mental health benefits to employees, they would also be required to provide equal deductibles, visit limits and co-payments for mental health care as they did for physical health care coverage. However, businesses with fewer than 50 employees would be exempt from the bill.

Both of these bills, H.R. 162 and S. 543, add to the previous 1996 bill, advocating complete mental health equality for all mental conditions listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV). H.R. 162 differs from S. 543 in that it also includes a provision for treatment of substance abuse.

The latest mental health parity legislation to be brought to the House of Representatives is the Mental Health Equitable Treatment Act of 2002, introduced by Representatives Roukema (R-NJ) and Patrick Kennedy (D-RI). APA supports this bill, known as H.R. 4066, which is the House companion to S. 543.

H.R. 4066 is more limited than the former parity legislation, H.R. 162, in that it does not provide for equal insurance coverage for substance abuse, and it only pertains to businesses with 50 or more employees. However, H.R. 4066 does provide a unifying platform for Congressional discussion and debate (National Association of Social Workers, 2002).

Independence, or Parity Hill, Day

Thursday, June 6, 2002 was Parity Hill Day in Washington, D.C. Approximately 2,000 supporters attended the rally and wake-up call, emphasizing the need for mental health parity now. Brent McCoy, our very own Chief Association Officer, gave his support for parity at the

rally as did APA member, Linda Whitten, APRN, CS-P, DAPA. Both Brent and Linda were there to show APA’s commitment to fight for equal insurance coverage for mental illness. They listened to the senators and representatives and picketed in front of the Capitol building to reflect APA’s support of mental health equality.

Linda Whitten’s former patient, George Currie, also joined Brent and Linda for the parity rally at the Capitol. Mr. Currie is a diagnosed schizophrenic who has battled discrimination throughout much of his life. He strongly believes that people with mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, are discriminated against, not only in the workplace, but also by insurance companies. Mr. Currie was the first group leader for Schizophrenics Anonymous, a support group for people who battle schizophrenia.

Brent and Linda also had the opportunity to meet with Congressman Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO), Deputy Majority Whip, to discuss their stand for equality between mental and physical health care. We hope we were able to influence Congressman Blunt to support mental health parity.

Speakers at the rally included Sen. Pete Domenici, Rep. Marge Roukema, Sen. Paul Wellstone and Rep. Patrick Kennedy. Other influential people who testified concerning the imbalance of mental health care versus physical health care were Jim McNulty, president of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), and Ron George, who spoke about his daughter’s battle with an eating disorder and the difficulty she had receiving help for her illness from insurance companies. She died from bulimia while still in college. Also Lisa Cohen, a woman with a blood disorder, testified about the discrimination she faced from insurance companies because of her own mental illness.


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