This past Sunday, the CBS TV show “60 Minutes” featured a segment “Denied” on how insurance companies deny or significantly limit medically needed treatment services to many who present with mental health issues. The consequences of these denials are catastrophic and in some instances, life-threatening. As a follow-up to the “60 Minutes” segment, “CBS This Morning,” interviewed former Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy, who is a tireless advocate for access to coverage for those encountering mental illness.
Access to appropriate mental health services continues to be significantly constrained by most insurance companies. For example, while care in a residential setting may be indicated, often insurers will authorize only outpatient services and often for a limited number of sessions. This kind of containment strategy places the burden of accessing appropriate care on the individual or his or her family and, in many instances, is financially prohibitive. As Kennedy mentioned in his interview, imagine battling cancer without the benefit of robust medical insurance coverage. The same predicament is faced by countless families whose insurance coverage for mental illness is so limited that it means little or no care for those who are most in need.
Like any illness, mental illness is treatable and there can be successful outcomes for those who are diagnosed early and treated consistently. In spite of federal legislation calling for parity of funding for mental illness, parity does not exist.
This disparity has had deadly consequences. On this week when we painfully recall the second anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting massacre, this is a poignant reminder that effective mental health services for the shooter might have prevented that atrocity. Lack of awareness, fear of stigma, and insufficient mental health treatment all contributed to that tragedy.
Although as a nation we have failed to effectively control fire arms-related violence, we should nevertheless be able to reach some consensus on adequately funding mental health services. Providing adequate and effective mental health services would go a long way in avoiding the many fire arms-related atrocities that have persistently plagued us.
The irony is that although the private sector significantly limits funding for mental health services, the public sector has a long history of providing funding for them. A balance needs to be developed that allows those who are not beneficiaries of publicly funded mental health services to receive the same level of care without having to submit to being enrolled in the public sector service delivery system.
The challenges are many especially as we approach the holiday season when stressors abound and families are the venue where these issues surface. Illness, regardless if it is a physical ailment or a mental heath issue, is nevertheless an illness. The same proactive and vigilant approach that makes for successful treatment of physical issues is also true for addressing mental illness. Parity regarding funding for mental health care is essential regardless of one’s socio-economic status. Without affordable care access, avoidable tragedies will continue to dominate the headlines and profoundly sadden countless lives. For more information on how you can advocate for access to mental health services, please visit One Mind, a non-profit organization co-founded by Kennedy that is dedicated to improving the treatment of mental illness.