"There is simply no scientific or medical justification for insurance coverage of the treatment of mental illness to be on different terms and conditions than for other diseases."
-Rabbis Yoffie and Saperstein
Contact: UAHC: Emily Grotta, 914-772-7657
RAC: Alexis Rice, 202-387-2800
NEW YORK, December 18, 2001 - In a letter today to the House and Senate conferees on the Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill, Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, President of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, and Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, urged lawmakers to include a provision which would address the disparities between mental health care and physical health care coverage in the United States today.
The complete letter follows:
On behalf of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), whose over 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, we urge you to support including the Senate mental health parity amendment in the final version of the FY 2002 Labor-HHS-Education spending bill (H.R. 3061). This amendment would put an end to the long-held practice of insurance discrimination against the mentally ill in our country. Mental health parity is a priority concern for our community. Two weeks ago, nearly 6,000 Reform Jews gathered in Boston for the 66th Biennial Convention of the UAHC. At this meeting, the UAHC adopted an important new policy statement, "Establishing a Comprehensive System of Care for Persons with Mental Illness," which highlights the problem of "the lack of availability and access for individuals to mental health treatment, exacerbated by the need for mental health insurance parity." This resolution calls for federal legislation requiring parity between physical and mental health coverage by health insurance carriers.
As you must know, there are tremendous disparities between mental health care and physical health care coverage in the United States today. Health plans of larger employers can arbitrarily limit the number of mental health impatient days and outpatient sessions or require higher out-of pocket charges for accessing mental health benefits. There is simply no scientific or medical justification for insurance coverage of the treatment of mental illness to be on different terms and conditions than for other diseases. The most frequent argument raised against parity is that it is too expensive. Parity, however, is affordable. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has projected that enactment of the Senate provision would result in premium increases of only 0.9%. Experience in the many states which have passed parity laws closely mirrors the CBO projections. Furthermore, workers with untreated or undertreated mental illness add some $70 billion annually to employer costs through absenteeism, turnover and retraining expenses, lower productivity, and increased medical costs. Enactment of mental health parity legislation, rather than having an adverse impact, can be expected to increase productivity and economic gain.
Jewish tradition places a great value on the health and well being of the mind. Maimonides, the great Jewish scholar, physician, and philosopher, taught that when a person is overpowered by "imagination, prolonged meditation, and avoidance of social contact," the physician must first treat these symptoms of mental illness before addressing the patient's physical ailments. Likewise, the traditional mi she-beirach prayer for the sick calls for a complete recovery (refuah sheleima), a healing of both the soul and the body (refuat ha-nefesh u-refuat haguf). Judaism recognizes that both a healthy body and a healthy mind are necessary for human beings to be complete.
As mental health parity would benefit millions of Americans suffering from mental illnesses, we ask you to support conference approval of the mental health parity amendment to the Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Act.
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), whose 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis(CCAR) whose membership includes over 1700 Reform rabbis.