Pharos-Tribune

Columns

January 3, 2014

PETERS: Giving mental health equal standing

When I was a kid, Jimmy Carter was in the White House. His wife, Rosalynn, was quite an active first lady. She sat in on official meetings held by her husband and was said to be one of his closest advisers.

Many First Ladies have used their position to promote a cause. One of the things that most interested Rosalynn Carter was mental health research and treatment. She has remained active in promoting those areas since leaving the White House.

So it was fitting when Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius recently addressed the Rosalynn Carter Symposium on Mental Health Policy in Atlanta. Sebelius announced new federal rules that will beef up the 2008 mental health equity law.

Back in 2008, President George W. Bush signed the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act. The basic notion behind that law is that doctors — and insurance companies — should treat mental illness as they do physical illness. In other words, it shouldn’t matter whether you have fallen on the ice or have fallen into depression.

What’s new about a law signed in 2008, you might ask? Although the law has been on the books for a while, it has rarely been enforced.

“Up to now, the law has not been complied with. Companies have only sort of adhered to it,” said Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman. Lieberman is head of the American Psychiatric Association, and he spoke about the law in an interview with CNN.

The new rules Sebelius announced will require private insurers to make similar co-payment charges to patients whether the problem they have is one of physical or mental health. That could have real impact. Sebelius pointed out that twice as many American die from suicide as from homicides. And, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 25 percent of Americans experience a diagnosable mental disorder each year.

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