We're Looking at Mental Health

Every state in New England -- except Massachusetts -- mandates insurance coverage for treatment of mental illness.

Mental health parity. Payment for mental illness with biological causes. Bi-polar, for example.

We have to consider mental health parity -- because mental illness is an illness, it is treatable, and treatment works. I hope that the legislature approves coverage this year.

According to testimony in Boston before the Insurance Committee this week, 51 million Americans annually suffer from mental and emotional disorders. That compares to 100 million with physical illness.

Your family is at risk, because 1/4 of all American families are affected by serious mental illness. And, it's not all adults. One in ten children have a mental problem.

If we legislated by anecdote, the bills facing our committee last Tuesday would pass without dissent. Person after person testified about the high costs of personally paying for treatment for mental illness.

But -- cost? Several people estimate cost at just $1 per month per member, or less.

Access? Mental health parity doesn't guarantee access. It just eliminates discrimination and, hopefully, dispels some of the stigma.

Limits? The average allowable amount now, when coverage is provided is $500 -- and
$500 doesn't go far. Maybe 10 or 12 visits to a therapist. We have to eliminate artificial limits.

And we want to consider confidentiality. To protect your privacy.

How about PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) -- biologically based? No, but it needs treatment.

And drug and substance abuse? They should be covered -- because they often go hand in hand with mental illness. And homelessness. And crime. And suicide. And drunk driving. Child abuse. Domestic violence.

So, who supports it? Professionals like psychologists, therapists, even insurers and HMOs. Hospitals too. Mental health coalitions -- of users, consumers and professionals.

Even the AARP testified in favor. In fact, more than 50 people testified in favor of the bill Tuesday.

So who is against it?

Well, one clinical psychologist who doesn't like HMOs in the least. But that is another hearing, another group of bills and another long day.

Anyone else? Scientologists, because they say there's no such thing as mental illness. Fifteen testified saying just that.

They claimed, among other things, that allergies and vitamin deficiencies, rather than chemical imbalances, cause any problems.

That people are drugged against their wills, that drugs don't help, that drugs have side effects. That "friends and family" had been abused by psychiatrists, that no one gets better after treatment, that psychiatrists have high suicide rates, that psychiatrists couldn't succeed as real doctors, that there's fraud in psychiatry and that psychiatry keeps people in public housing.

That they don't want it and don't want to pay for it, and don't want their employees to have psychiatric help.

That Texas mental hospitals are rife with fraud, that Italy closed all mental hospitals, that there's no such science as psychiatry.

Those objections, at the end of a five hour hearing, were hardly based on fact.

Mental illness exists. It is as real as any other illness. Help is available. We have to find a way to make it affordable.

All materials copyright 1997 - 2014