April 29, 2007

California's Mental Illness Insurance Parity Bill

An article in the San Jose Mercury News tells about a mental illness insurance parity bill, AB423, going before the California Assembly's health committee, and the irony of Santa Clara County supervisors considering cutting $34 million from the mental health budget next year. The county proposes closing four community clinics at a time of shortage of care for people with severe mental illnesses.

In spite of a 1999 California law stating that health insurance policies must provide the same level of coverage for major mental illnesses (which included schizophrenia and bipolar disorder) as they provide for other diseases, many patients still wind up in emergency rooms - or on the streets or in jail - because they can't get treatment.

Problems occur for various reasons. Many people do not know they have a right to such coverage, or are vulnerable and cannot fight the system for it. Says Karen Vicari of the Mental Health Association in California,

"People in a mental health crisis are the least able to battle the system."
Other problems include vague wording about what constitutes "equal coverage", providing a loophole for insurance plans to not cover some extended treatment. Also, substance abuse is not covered, and people with severe mental illnesses may have comorbid substance abuse problems. Both need to be addressed.

Now, an assemblyman from San Jose, Jim Beall, hopes to plug the loopholes in that 1999 law with a bill, AB423, dubbed "Beall's bill". The bill covers more psychiatric illnesses, includes treatment for substance abuse, and requires new health care plans to cover diagnosis and all necessary treatment.

Although the health insurance industry is expected to oppose the bill, Beall hopes that strong support from social-services agencies and the medical community will help carry it through. Beall says:

"The cure for the mental health crisis is good medicine. We've recognized that it's more cost-effective to deal with problems early, instead of paying the social costs of prisons, domestic violence and unemployment."

Still, the bill only addresses a small part of the mental health crisis. It does not address the needs of the multitude of people with no insurance, while some counties continue to cut back on mental health services.

Read the article: Fisher: Mentally ill deserve chance at better life (free subscription may be required)

Related Reading:
New York Approves Insurance Parity Bill
Ohio Senate Backs Coverage for Mental Illnesses
Los Angeles Hospital Patients Dumped on Skid Row
How Much Mental-Health Care Do Insurers Have to Cover? Why is Coverage so Poor? What you can do


The supervisors in Santa Clara may believe they will be getting rid of (oh, ick) mentally ill people. But what they will find is a much bigger problem. People who are ill and no longer have access to treatment, no place to go, they will feel harrassed, as they get kicked out of one area after another. There are so many mentally ill people. They need treatment and care, you can't just line them up and shoot them. Maybe you thought that as a final solution, you could do that? After all, who wants to deal with (ick) illness?

Posted by: Mandisa at May 2, 2007 05:45 PM

My 37 year old son has not worked for the past 5 years and has not been diagnosed with schizophrenia. He has gone voluntarily to Barbara Arons (local SCC mental health facility) 2 times, has attempted suicide 4 times, and it has been necessary for me to put him in jail 3 times for domestic violence. He was just released Sunday, 7/8/07, went to the county pharmacy for his meds on 7/9/07, checked in with EPS who advised him that he is on a "waiting list" for SCC Mental Health Services.
As his mother, I have attempted to stand in the gap continually trying to get him help, but am always told by both the agencies and the police that it is completely voluntary and "a violation of his Constitutional rights" if they take him to EPS even though EPS has told me on numerous occasions that all I needed to do was call the police and ask for a "psychiatric transport" because he has a history with them. The police, of course, say this is not true and because they believe (based on 40 hrs. of medical training) he is not a danger to himself or anyone else, refuse to transport him.
Because my family is in the Midwest, we have no other family here and he has no friends who have a place for him to stay. His father has also declined to help with the situation. This means that if I put him out, he will be on the streets and I fear the outcome should I make this choice.
A judge told me the other day about NAMI.org, which I am checking into. This is the first time I have been given any assistance whatsoever.
If I can be of any assistance in our endeavor to boost the "mental health" issue, PLEASE let me know. You can always leave me an email or call me at (408) 564-7611 after 6:30 p.m. weekdays.
A friend of mine and I (we have both worked in the legal field for more than 30 years) are going to tackle the Mental Health Bill. If you have any suggestions, I would love to hear them post haste.

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