On December 14, 2014, 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 and his or her family. In many instances, this is financially prohibitive. As Kennedy mentioned in his interview, try to 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 most ailments, 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.
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.
Illness, whether 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.
Joseph Costa is CEO of Hillsides, a multi-service provider in California.