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Home > Research Articles > Mental Health Parity Is a Civil Rights Issue

National Mental Health Association

Friday, April 26, 2002

Mental Health Parity Is a Civil Rights Issue NMHA Praises Bush's Interest, Urges Support of Full Parity April 26, 2002 ALEXANDRIA, Va. (April 26, 2002) The National Mental Health Association (NMHA) today praised President Bush for trying to do the right thing for Americans with mental illness by focusing the nation's attention on mental health parity legislation. "Stigma and discrimination (including health insurance discrimination) still confront people with mental illnesses," said Michael Faenza, M.S.S.W., NMHA president and CEO. "Mental health parity is very much a civil rights issue; passage of mental health parity legislation is long overdue in America." NMHA urges the President to endorse a parity bill that incorporates the consumer protections included in the bipartisan legislation pending in the Senate and House. The Domenici-Wellstone Mental Health Equitable Treatment Act, as approved unanimously by the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee, incorporates numerous compromises to meet the concerns of the business community. More than 160 national organizations support the act. "Opponents, regrettably, continue to rail at this legislation in efforts to kill or dilute it," Faenza said. "Particularly troublesome is their call to limit the scope of a parity requirement to a handful of diagnoses. Such proposals would abandon people who suffer from many other serious mental disorders." Children, in particular, would be left behind by limited protections. Children and adolescents experience a range of mental disorders including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorders, eating disorders and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder for which treatment is effective but could be denied or extremely limited without real parity protections. "Limiting coverage under a "parity" bill to only a handful of diagnoses would permit discrimination by diagnosis. It would set a standard that would be unacceptable for physical illnesses," Faenza said. "No insurance policy would cover "severe" heart disease but not high blood pressure, or lung cancer but not skin cancer. People with mental illness should not be treated differently." Although parity legislation should certainly cover people with the most severe mental illnesses, the many Americans in need of treatment for other mental disorders (many of which are severely debilitating) should not be consigned to inferior mental health coverage. Instead, treatment decisions should be based on "medical necessity," as they are throughout much of the healthcare system. "We look forward to working with the President and Congress to pass meaningful parity legislation," Faenza said.