By: Elena Hirsch
Illness of any kind can be devastating, causing pain and suffering not just for the affected individual, but for family, friends, and all of those around him. But while insurance companies are quick to provide a treatment route for those with physical illness, the same is not true for those with mental illness. Unfortunately, people with mental illness often suffer unnecessarily because their insurance companies are not treating illnesses of the brain and illnesses of the body in an equal manner.
The 2008 Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, which requires that insurers provide equal coverage for illnesses of both the body and the brain, was a great stride toward ensuring that mental health care would be covered by insurance companies, but we need to go further to make sure that the insurance companies are complying. We now need to require insurance companies to make it easier for people to understand their coverage and receive the help that they need. Many individuals struggle with dealing with complicated managed care systems and with deciphering the allowances and limitations that are hidden within their insurance policies.
Mental illnesses can cause just as much pain and be just as deadly as physical illnesses. Depression can lead to suicide, and addictions can lead to an overdose. This grim outcome could be prevented with straightforward insurance coverage that grants the patient a comprehensive and complete treatment plan for as long as is necessary. Additionally, we need to make sure that the charges and co-pays for mental health treatments and prescriptions are not higher than those for comparable physical illness treatments and prescriptions, because these high costs often deter patients from seeking treatment.
Mental health is an issue of great national importance. Rates of both suicides and overdoses are on the rise, and quality mental health care can often prevent these deaths. I have seen how catastrophic untreated mental illness can be, both on a large and small scale. Nationally, we have seen numerous mass shootings that may have been preventable if the shooters had undergone treatment for their mental health issues. I don’t want those victims’ lives to have been lost in vain and would love to see you take action and expand and enforce the Mental Health Parity Act.
On a personal level, I have seen the damaging effects of suicide. A classmate of mine suffered in silence and took her own life this past year. On the outside, she was a bright and active individual, participating at a high level in sports and clubs at school, but she cut her life short and left a hole in the community. Rather than celebrating the many great things she could have done in the future, we will instead always mourn her loss.
Now is the time to commit to helping others who suffer with mental illness. Let’s tell the insurance companies that it is not acceptable to discriminate against those with mental illness. There must be consequences for insurance companies who choose to ignore the Mental Health Parity Act’s guidelines by finding loopholes or overcomplicating the process of obtaining help. The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act was passed by Congress to help those who suffer with mental illness, so it is now up to you to make sure that it is enforced.