Millions of Americans have found out the hard way that employer-provided health plans offer far more limited mental health benefits than for physical illnesses.
“This lack of parity is leading to a national mental health crisis and is costing far more than providing proper coverage,” says Pamela Greenberg, chair of the Coalition for Fairness in Mental Illness Coverage.
“Lack of true mental health parity, coupled with ignorance and social stigma about mental illness, means that our nation faces a mental health crisis that will continue to skyrocket with crippling effects for many Americans, their families, communities and their employers,” Greenberg stresses.
One woman who can attest to this reality is Gail Griffith, the mother of one of the estimated 57 million Americans who suffer from a mental health disorder. In 2001, Griffith’s teenage son suffered severe depression and attempted suicide. The mental health treatment he required proved to be very costly, despite the fact that his family had insurance.
“Our family was fortunate enough to have the financial resources to sustain my son’s mental health crisis — and it still required a titanic lift from everyone involved. But the sad reality is that there are millions of families whose insurance won’t cover their children’s psychiatric care,” remarks Griffith, whose memoir Will’s Choice examines how she coped with her son’s depression and confronted a health care system fraught with economic inequalities.
Unfortunately, Griffith’s story is not unique. For many families, treatment and coverage costs for depression and other mental health disorders are simply too high. The President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health reports half of Americans who need mental health treatment do not receive it.
However, the costs of untreated mental health and substance abuse disorders to American businesses, governments and families are even higher. These costs have grown to $113 billion annually. A 2003 study found that depression alone cost the economy $83 billion a year including absenteeism and lost productivity at work and treatment costs. Untreated mental health needs can also lead to unemployment, costly emergency room care and hospitalization.
Opponents of mental health parity have claimed that parity would be too costly. However, these claims are not supported. Recent studies, including a report in The New England Journal of Medicine commissioned by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, show clearly that parity can improve health coverage without increasing overall health care costs.
Ten years ago, Congress approved legislation requiring annual and lifetime dollar limits for mental health coverage to be the same as for other health coverage. However, the Government Accountability Office found that 87% of employers that comply with the law have reduced other aspects of their mental health coverage, such as day and visit limits.
Today’s health plans routinely provide coverage for mental health that is far more limited than coverage for physical illnesses. Some patients now face lifetime coverage limits of the number of treatment sessions they can receive — regardless of their medical needs. But insurance sets no comparable benefit limits on needed treatment for any other illness.
“A comprehensive parity law is more than a decade overdue. We need to end insurance discrimination against people with mental health problems,” emphasizes Greenberg.
Source: PR Newswire