April 17, 2012

Bureaucracies move slowly.

Sometimes too slowly.

That’s the case with the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) which has yet to issue the final regulations to implement the mental health parity law that was enacted in 2008.

As a U.S. Senator, President Barack Obama voted for the law, but implementation has stalled under his administration since 2010.

Responsibility for moving the process lies with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, a member of the President’s Cabinet.

Two former U.S. Senators, Pete Domenici of New Mexico and Gordon Smith of Oregon, who were leaders in the bipartisan effort that passed the parity law, last week, co-authored an article in the Washington Post calling on the administration to act.

The law requires large employer-paid health insurance plans and Medicaid managed-care plans to provide coverage for mental illness or substance abuse disorders on par with physical illnesses. Absence of final regulations has created confusion and uncertainty for both employers and people who live with mental illness.

Many health care plans still don’t provide mental health coverage. Others impose barriers that do not exist for other conditions. Families in crisis often discover abruptly that their health insurance plans don’t cover the help they need.

In an online comment posted to Domenici’s and Smith’s article in the Post, a man observed: “If I hadn't had a good health insurance policy that covered mental health issues, I wouldn't have gotten help two years ago, and I'd probably be dead right now.”

One woman wrote: “I have watched my parents struggle to access mental health and substance abuse treatment for my brother, paying thousands of dollars out of pocket for his care. Access to effective, evidence-based treatments should not be limited to those with the means to pay.”

Another woman recognized “how integral mental health is to overall health. We know that there is a clear relationship between diseases such as heart disease and diabetes and depression. And the reality is that while mental health conditions are common, they are treatable. The mental health parity law ensures that people receive services and get help.”

What can you do?

Contact the HHS Public Affairs Office: [email protected]

Contact the White House: Send an email asking the President to issue final regulations for the mental health parity bill. Comments can also registered by phone at (202) 456-1111.

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