Issue: Mental Health Parity - Page 3

What is parity?

By Katy Clark

Continued from page two...

Question & Answer

D.C. Parity Rally

Brent McCoy shared his comments on the Parity rally:

Q: What was the mental health rally in Washington, D.C. like?

A: Brent McCoy—

Moments before the rally actually began, it was calm and quiet as different organizations were huddled together in their own groups. But as the featured speakers were making their way down to the stage, the estimated 2,000 supporters ran to the front and joined together as one body. The west front lawn of the Capitol building was full of enthusiastic and optimistic supporters of mental health parity. Posters were waving in the air, people were shouting their thoughts on parity. You truly felt a sense of unity, as we all were there fighting for the same cause.

Q: Which speakers had the greatest impact on you?

A: Brent McCoy—

Personally, I really enjoyed Marge Roukema and Patrick Kennedy. They both demonstrated so much confidence in H.R. 4066 and in establishing mental health parity. They had a unique way of connecting with the people. They both really got the crowd going. I will never forget Kennedy pounding on the podium and yelling, "...the last time I checked, the brain is still part of the body, and therefore should receive treatment just as other parts of the body!"

Q: What was it like to see so many people joining together to support the cause of mental health parity legislation?

A: Brent McCoy—

It gave a real sense of hope. Being at the Capitol gives you a whole new perspective on government and legislation. Being there makes you feel like you can make a difference. I mean, you are physically speaking with legislators face-to-face. Attending the rally with thousands of supporters boosted my confidence in our fight for mental health parity.

Q: Do you think our organization can have a big impact on passing H.R. 4066?

A: Brent McCoy—

I firmly believe we can. With the members behind us, we can do anything. I feel we have an edge over other organizations due to our interdisciplinary membership. Because of this, our members have experience with every aspect of treatment in mental health care and can relate their professional experiences with current legislation.

Q: Was Congressman Blunt responsive to the concept of parity when you met with him last week?

A: Brent McCoy—

I can’t speak on his behalf; however, I think down deep he is in favor of equal insurance coverage. Congressman Blunt is in favor of government-supported insurance plans mandating parity, he just doesn't feel government should be telling private business what to do. I would like to say that I applaud Linda Whitten for her efforts in speaking with Congressman Blunt. She stood her ground and said what needed to be said. The organization is fortunate to have a member like her.

Annals also talked with Linda Whitten to receive her views on the parity issue.

Linda Whitten

Q: Do you think it is possible for a mental health parity bill to be enacted by the cut-off date of Dec. 31, 2002?

A: Linda Whitten—

I believe some states have already moved ahead with their own parity bills. There are different levels of parity and there are different issues, such as federally funded and privately funded insurance, and who has regulatory control over the different areas. Even if each state has provided parity, the basic insurance for many disabled chronically mentally ill and the geriatric population, Medicare coverage remains quite inequitable. Often change can begin with federal programs leading the way. I think Medicare and federal employees benefits have stronger support for parity in the Congress and the Senate than mandating private insurance company policies. That’s a basic place to start--at the federal level. President Bush is a staunch supporter of mental health parity; his support increases the likelihood of passage.

Q: Who is going to benefit most from mental health parity?

A: Linda Whitten—

The patients and the nation as a whole. I addressed this with Congressman Blunt. Safety is a concern; people who are untreated are people who are going to be at higher risk for endangering themselves and others in response to untreated symptoms. Conversely, those who are treated are much less likely than the general population to act violently. The patient basically benefits the most, allowing him or her an improved quality of life and increased productivity. It is less costly to prevent hospitalizations than to pay for hospitalization/incarceration. Increased productivity and decreased hospitalizations result in quality of life and financial benefits for the nation.

Q: What change(s) must occur in the current situation so that mental health parity can be brought about?

A: Linda Whitten—

Increased public education to bring about the understanding that mental illness is a physical illness. Increase the knowledge that bio-physiological, organic changes in the brain, an organ of the body, produce the symptoms of the illness designated as “mental illness,” as opposed to medical or physical illness. Public educational efforts have increased, but there remains a huge gap in public comprehension that mental illness is a physiological, organic entity, not just a matter of experiences or volitional attitudes or behaviors.

Q: What effect would H.R. 4066 have on employers and employees?

A: Linda Whitten—

The research indicates a minimal cost to the employer. With treatment, it is likely employees will improve their functioning, therefore their productivity, actually increasing the employer’s revenue and negating the initial cost of H.R. 4066.

George Currie

Annals interviewed George Currie concerning his experience with mental health inequality:

Q: Did you have difficulty making ends meet with your disability?

A: George Currie—

It’s hard to get benefits and assurances. I was in the VA hospital when I was able to qualify for government aid because I fought in Vietnam. However, many people in branches of the government don’t have these benefits. I’ve still been struggling to make ends meet, and I still struggle with the disease [of schizophrenia]. Alcoholics often have many benefits and treatment options available to them, but if you have a mental disability, no one wants to treat it.

Most of my life I’ve worked menial jobs. When I got sick, whatever I had accumulated when I worked, I lost. I had to go back to the hospital and had to start over again. It’s like a revolving door: you get on your feet a little bit and start getting material things, and then you start getting sick again, and you’re smack-dab in the hospital again. Unless you’re married or have someone who can take care of you when you’re sick, you lose it all.

Q: What made you want to attend the rally in D.C.?

A: George Currie—

I’m interested in increasing public awareness of mental illness. I try to keep abreast of what’s going on. I think because schizophrenia turned my life around and really devastated me. I’ve struggled a lot with the disease and so I’m interested in anything that has to do with it.

Before I was in Vietnam, I had a bright future. I was an “A” student in high school. I was going to the university to be an electrical engineer. I could have had a bright future, until my illness knocked me out. . . .I was kind of shoved into the situation.

How Does Mental Health Parity Affect Me?

Now that you've read the comments of others who support mental health parity, you might have some questions to ask about the cost of mental health parity legislation to employers and employees. Critics say a mental health parity bill such as H.R. 4066 would create a rise in the price of insurance. Actually, H.R. 4066 would only increase the cost of insurance by less than one percent, according to the Congressional Budget Office. When you consider the amount of productivity lost in the workplace due to mental stress, depression and other problems, mental health care coverage would increase employee productivity and lessen the amount of work missed due to mental problems. According to the Surgeon General's Report on Mental Health from December 1999: The combined indirect and related costs of mental illnesses, including costs of lost productivity, lost earnings, and societal costs, are estimated to total $148 billion (National Institute of Mental Health, 1999). Depression ranks among the top three workplace problems, followed only by family crisis and stress (Employee Assistance Professionals Association survey, 1996). As the statistics show, there is a problem with lost productivity in the workplace due to mental health issues. Equal insurance coverage for mental illnesses would actually boost the productivity of employees, more than compensating for the slight increase in insurance premiums.


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