Civil Rights, Civil Wrongs, and the Dream of Mental Health Insurance Parity

Sue Bergeson Health Guide

  • I was writing this around Martin Luther King Day. (I write these pieces, and somehow they magically get placed on the Web site. I never know how or when. So bear with me if occasionally the timing seems a bit off, like perhaps now).


    At any rate, I have been thinking a lot about civil rights. Many people struggling with mental illness resonate strongly with Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.


    We have strong dreams about what treatment will be like someday…what we can accomplish to change the way our fellow peers are treated…that they even have access to treatment.


    For many in our community, mental health is the latest civil rights issue. And insurance parity is one of the key issues that we are struggling with.


    The Paul Wellstone Mental Health Equitable Treatment Act, which we are hopeful will see the light of day this year in Congress, expands the Mental Health Parity Act of 1996 by requiring group health plans to offer benefits for mental health and addiction on the same terms as care for other diseases. The legislation closes the loopholes that allow plans to charge higher co-payments, coinsurance, deductibles, and maximum out-of-pocket limits and impose lower day and visit limits on mental health/addiction care.


    DBSA vice chairman, Randy Revelle, is a prominent mental health advocate in the state of Washington. He served as the chief elected official for King County, a position similar in scope and authority to serving as Governor of 18 of the 50 states. He also lives with bipolar disorder. Randy is famously quoted for his one-minute presentation that helped to convince his health plan to provide parity for mental health medications.


    Randy held up a bottle of Lomotil he took for diarrhea and noted that his health plan paid the entire cost of the medication. He then held up a bottle of lithium he took for bipolar disorder and noted that his health plan paid nothing for this medication. The punch line? This proved that his health plan thought his *** was more important than his brain!


    And so it goes….


    Representative Patrick Kennedy, who himself lives with a mental illness, is quoted as saying, “Every day that we allow insurance discrimination against mental illnesses is another day 82 Americans will die of suicide. It’s another day that American business will lose $85 million in lost productivity to depression alone. It’s another day that thousands of children will be in state custody instead of home with their parents. It’s another night on the streets for 200,000 homeless Americans living with mental illness and addictions. We cannot afford the status quo.”


    Take a minute and read more about parity, and send a letter to your legislator here.


    It’s time we move closer to that dream.

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Published On: February 09, 2007