Legislative Social Feb. 1

Did you know that one out of four American families is affected by mental illness? With names like depression, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and OCD, these illnesses touch the lives of many of our families, friends, neighbors and co-workers. Because of a lack of education, there is a great deal of stigma attached to these illnesses. Often, this causes people to remain silent and isolated and keeps them from getting the help they need. The right treatment and support can enable a person to live a full and productive life.

Unfortunately, community services are understaffed and underpaid, supportive housing has shut down their waiting lists due to lack of voucher funding, and Medicaid, the primary payer of public mental health services and health care for low-income individuals with serious mental illnesses, is in danger of having its benefits reduced. Is this the way we want to treat our friends and neighbors whose goals are to be productive members of the community? Shouldn't the goal of the community be to give help to people when they need it, help that is proven to be cost-effective for the community, so they can then live in recovery and contribute to the community?

On Monday, Feb. 1, NAMI Fairfield, along with NAMI Stamford/Greenwich, NAMI Connecticut and the Southwest Regional Mental Health Board, will sponsor a Legislative Social. Our goal is to provide information about a few of the essential issues that affect people living with mental illness in lower Fairfield County. NAMI is the National Alliance on Mental Illness. NAMI's goals are to support those living with mental illness and their loved ones, to provide educational programs to the community that foster understanding and healthy living, and to provide advocacy.

NAMI Connecticut's Public Policy Committee has identified several issues to focus on for the upcoming congressional year. Of those, we have chosen four to address at this social: preserving Medicaid, access to medication, access to community mental health services, and permanent supportive housing. People living with mental illness and their loved ones will give short testimonies addressing how they have benefitted from or how they are frustrated by the existing programs that support these issues. We will also hear from local agencies and service providers.

Legislators and chief elected officials from Bridgeport, Darien, Easton, Fairfield, Greenwich, Monroe, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, Stratford, Shelton, Trumbull, Weston, Westport, and Wilton have been invited. We have also sent out invitations to lower Fairfield County's psychiatric hospitals, community service agencies, shelters, Clubhouses, and private non-profit service providers. As you can see, we are hoping for a large number of "constituents" to make an impact on our legislators and elected officials.

We are asking people to contact their legislators and selectman/mayor to stress the importance of their attendance. To find your legislator go to www.cga.ct.gov/ and click on "House" or "Senate" and follow the path to "Find Your Legislator". Or go to www.namifairfield.org, go to the "Speaker Meeting" page and click on the direct link. This is an easy way to send an e-mail or to connect to their Web site to find a legislator's phone number. Selectmen and mayors are equally as easy to find by simply going to your town Web site.

When connected with them via e-mail or phone, the message should be short and precise. It is enough to say "I am a constituent and I am hoping to see you at the NAMI Legislative Social on Monday, Feb. 1. It is from 7:30 to 9 p.m. at First Church Congregational on Beach Road in Fairfield. These issues are important to me and I hope you can take the time to learn more about them."

The most important part of this event will be turn-out. The hope is that Wakeman Hall will be filled with the community of people affected by mental illness, that legislators will see that their concerns are real and serious, and that their voices will be heard and responded to.

The social is open to the public, is free of charge, and light refreshments will be served. To RSVP or for more information please call Judy at 203-650-3463.

Judy Gardner, President,

NAMI Fairfield

`Political sleaze

at its zenith'

The AARP, unofficially recognized as the guardian of seniors, has betrayed its members by their steadfast support of the Senate health care bill, which more than 70 percent of seniors adamantly oppose. To pass this bill, the Senate majority doled out thousands of dollars to bribe individual senators to secure their affirmative vote -- political sleaze at its zenith.

The bill, some 2,700 pages, does not fundamentally reform health care -- period! A prime example is that there is no attempt to reign in trial lawyers, who give obscene contributions to the administration and in return, there is no reasonable monetary limits placed on malpractice liability claims. Modest reforms could conservatively save $80 billion to $100 billion annually. Nary a word from AARP.

Both bills being considered remove a half-trillion dollars from Medicare. This is nothing snort of disaster for seniors. Serious reimbursement cuts are mandated for and all health care providers. It is conceivable doctors will no longer be willing to accept Medicare patients at the reduced repayment rates. This will be a fatal blow to the Medicare program. Not a murmur from AARP--not even when it was announced that the Mayo Clinic in Arizona is refusing to accept any more Medicare patients. Need more be said of what is to come?

There will be some 30 million-plus new potential patients, so rationing of health care is a given. You can also forget about thinking of selecting a new doctor or making a change of doctors. And it follows with the reduced Medicare reimbursement--those with private insurance will undoubtedly be given preference. Simple logic.

There will be a multitude of special committees (estimated 130) and untold numbers of federal bureaucrats to micro-manage all the provisions in this 2,700-page senate bill. New taxes will be assessed and they will be substantial and levied on all income brackets. Payments will start immediately and continue for at least 10 years, but the benefits do not kick in until 2014. Imagine buying a car and making payments for three years before you have the privilege to drive it.

If this bill is so great, why have 13 Democrats requested that their states be exempt from participation? Health care reform is urgently needed and must be addressed now. This bill does not reform health care -- this bill is a disaster in the making. The unyielding aggressive support of this health care bill by AARP is a blatant betrayal to the seniors who are overwhelmingly opposed to it.

The administration already has a significant presence in the banks and financial institutions, insurance, automobiles and now it is looking to control health care, which is one-sixth of our total economy. Are we on a slippery slope headed bit-by-bit toward a socialistic state?

AARP is strategically positioned to reap a financial bonanza for its profitable billion-dollar insurance business, with 30 million-plus prospective new customers coming in to the marketplace. Unfortunately, seniors are left with a dysfunctional health care bill.

Albert E. Vosburgh

Fairfield