Suicide consistently ranks as one of the top 10 causes of death in America. The surgeon general reported that in almost all cases, the victim has a diagnosable mental illness, a substance abuse problem, or both.
The surgeon general reports that “studies indicate that the most promising way to prevent suicide and suicidal behavior is through the early recognition and treatment
of depression and other psychiatric illnesses.”
So, we know of a deadly illness and we know it can be prevented with diagnosis and treatment. Why can’t people be easily treated in its prevention?
Many insurance plans discriminate against mental illness, making treatment for these illnesses much harder to receive. In some instances, there are lifetime caps on the amount of dollars spent on treatment or caps on the amount of times a patient can see their doctor. In some instances, mental diseases will not be covered. There is ample reasoning for the disparity.
It would be economically costly and overused by people. Since the illness is invisible, there is a fear that people will pretend to have it. There is also a fear that insurance would be forced to cover every illness in the DSM-IV, the book of diagnosed mental illnesses used by healthcare officials. These include
“questionable” mental illnesses.
But studies have shown that mental health parity does not increase the cost of treatment. It lowers what patients
pay out-of-pocket for treatment. Even today there is a stigma attached to mental illnesses- it’s tiresome.
Thirty-four states have mental parity laws. That’s unacceptable. The existing bill was supposed to lapse in 2001. The date has been extended now to Dec. 31, 2006. This legislation states that medical health benefits must be equal in terms of lifetime and annual dollar limits.
Just because mental illness isn’t visible with the human eye, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. People with depression don’t “snap out of it.” Depression is a serious illness, one that can’t be shrugged off and one that can’t go untreated.
The law was a big step, but the it did not state that these benefits have to be offered in health insurance plans, nor was there mention of coverage for substance abuse treatment and people with Medicare or Medicaid.
Pennsylvania has a mental health mandate, but no law. The mandate only applies to companies with 50 or more employees. It allows for coverage (up to 30 days annually inpatient, and 60 days annually outpatient) for a “serious mental illness.”
This includes bipolar, schizophrenia, anorexia, bulimia, panic disorder and others. This is great, unless someone’s
illness is so serious that they need to be hospitalized for two months. Also, the definition of outpatient care can be vague and more than 60 days of treatment isn’t uncommon.
The patient is expected to pay out of pocket.With a mental illness, patients not only have to suffer, but they have to prove it. Mental health parity is crucial to millions of lives. It’s time to pass legislation that actually provides coverage for people with mental disorders.
Carolyn Steeves can be reached at