October 14, 2006
An Open Letter on Mental Health Parity
I write to you today asking for your consideration of an issue that has had a profound impact upon my family and many others in our nation: the disparity in health care treatment for the mentally ill. To address this problem, Congress has been considering a bill on mental health care parity for several years that would require group health insurance plans to provide coverage for mental health at the same standards as for other areas of health care. For example, a health plan can limit the number of annual visits to a psychologist, even though the plan does not limit visits for non-mental health illnesses. To give you an idea of the status quo, Congress passed the Mental Health Parity Act in 1996, which required that insurance companies place equal dollar caps (lifetime and annual) on mental health and physical health benefits. The legislation, however, does not prohibit insurance companies from restricting the number of therapy visits or days of hospitalization for mental illnesses, or raising co-payments for mental health care. Some states have passed their own parity laws, but many have not. Also, some of the state laws are not comprehensive. This discrepancy creates a huge burden to receiving care for those with mental illnesses; in my opinion it amounts to nothing less than systemic discrimination.
I have seen the first-hand effects of this disparity as I have watched my parents fight a continuous battle to provide care for my younger brother, who has several psychological disorders. At times, they have been left with no choice but to pay for treatment out-of-pocket because the insurance company limits the number of visits per year to a psychologist. There are so few options available for so many, unfortunately. In America today, tens of millions live without health insurance. Now imagine an America where those that are fortunate enough to have health insurance, but are living with mental illness, are denied treatment and can't afford to continue. No choices remain except amassing debt or just forgoing treatment altogether. Those who can't afford their own treatment are sent further along on a downward spiral. According to the American Psychological Association, 44 million Americans live with a mental health disorder, but only one third of those Americans receive treatment. Of those who don't receive treatment, 87% say that lack of insurance is a leading factor for not receiving treatment, and 81% say that cost is a leading factor. This, I'm afraid, is the America we live in.
The main opponents of mental health parity argue that it is too costly. The research on the matter paints a quite different picture, however. The estimates for the rise in health care premiums if parity were required range from one to four percent. However, the loss of productivity due to untreated mental illnesses is far more costly than the direct financial cost of parity. Estimates for the cost of lost productivity range from the tens of billions of dollars to over one hundred billion dollars annually (according to a 2000 surgeon general's report, indirect costs of mental illness were $79 billion in 1990).
Why is it that in the United States today, a person can have a broken bone or cancer and be reimbursed to one standard by their insurance company, but have a mental health disorder and be held to a different, lower standard? Why is it that our society has decided that mental illness is not as real as any other illness? After years of progress in research on mental illness and after proving wrong all of the preconceived notions about a non-biological cause for mental illness, isn't it about time that the health care system in the United States starts treating mental health to the same standards as other illnesses?
Thank you for listening to my opinions on this issue. I hope that you will consider these facts and arguments. If you agree that insurance companies should have to hold the same standards for mental health care and non-mental health care, this is a great time to become involved and do something about it! You could call or write your Congressional representative, and ask him or her to sign discharge petition 0018 so that this bill can be brought out of committee and receive a floor vote in the House of Representatives, or at least tell them that you support mental health parity and urge them to support it too. The bill has been stuck in committee for years, and if discharge petition #18 can receive 218 signatures (it only needs 53 more right now!), the bill will bypass the committee and go straight to a floor vote. The bill has the bipartisan support of 229 co-sponsors, a majority, and would likely pass if brought to a vote. You could also let other people know that this is an issue that matters to you , such as by adding "mental health parity" as a campaign issue that is important to you on Facebook (the issue can be found in my profile!).
If you have any questions or would like to speak with me about this, let me know! I've included a few sources of information below for anyone interested. I have also attached a PDF copy of a very informative journal article about this topic.
Thanks again for your time,
A Few References on Mental Health Parity
Text of House Resolution 1402 - http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c109:H.R.1402:
Discharge Petition 0018 - http://clerk.house.gov/109/lrc/pd/Petitions/Dis18.htm
American Psychological Association Info on Mental Health Parity - http://www.apahelpcenter.org/articles/article.php?id=26
Census data on health insurance statistics - http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/hlthins/hlthin05/fig07.pdf
National Mental Health Information Center Info on Parity - http://mentalhealth.samhsa.gov/cmhs/ManagedCare/Parity/default.asp
National Mental Health Association Parity Fact Sheet - http://www.nmha.org/state/parity/parity_fact_sheet.cfm
National Mental Health Association: Why Parity Makes Economic Sense - http://www.nmha.org/state/parity/parity_economy.cfm
Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General (see Chapter 6, Section 2 for the costs of mental illness) - http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/mentalhealth/toc.html
Posted by mjpoll at October 14, 2006 06:51 PM
Mark...Obama Care it is...
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