Mental health issues came to the forefront of American politics in the 1990s. Treatment for mental health disorders was not typically covered by health insurance companies and, when it was, coverage was limited when compared to that provided for physical health conditions. During this decade, parity was championed by the mental health community as an antidiscrimination movement and gained bipartisan support. President Bill Clinton made many mental policy changes during his time in office and poignantly stated, “Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all.”
President Clinton signed the Mental Health Parity Act of 1996 into law on September 27, 1997. This law came into effect on January 1, 1998, and was the first federal legislation implementing any sort of parity in insurance coverage for individuals struggling with mental health issues. While the text did not require that employers or insurance companies provide mental health coverage, it did require that those already providing this coverage offer annual and lifetime dollar limits equivalent to those provided for other medical conditions. This did not include deductibles or co-pays. The law did not apply to small businesses, defined as those with 50 or fewer employees, and did not provide parity for substance abuse or addiction treatment services. Though it was severely limited, the Mental Health Parity Act of 1996 stood as a symbol of the federal government’s dedication to mental health care reform and began to address the growing needs of the mental health community.
In a radio address on June 5, 1999, President Clinton maintained the importance of mental health awareness and treatment. He stated, “…mental illness is misunderstood and feared. Too many people with mental illness are denied the opportunity to fully participate in American life. Bias against people with mental illness is not unique in our time or our Nation. But as a nation founded on the idea of equality, we must use our time to change it.” President Clinton worked with Tipper Gore to convene the first White House Conference on Mental Health later that month.
Inclusion of substance abuse and addiction treatment in mental health parity legislation came after the Clinton administration, which paved the way for health insurance reform. The government now acknowledges the ways in which addiction and mental health are connected. If you or a loved one is facing charges for a nonviolent drug-related offense, help is available. Sovereign Court Services will advocate on your behalf for addiction treatment in lieu of incarceration. Call 866-439-7698 to be connected with an advocate today.
Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer