Mental Health America Applauds Numerous Provisions in House Health Care Reform Bill
Dr. David Shern, President and CEO of Mental Health America, Testifies Before Key Congressional Committee on Health Care Reform
Contact: Eileen Sexton, 703/837-4783, email@example.com
ALEXANDRIA, Va. (June 22, 2009) - David L. Shern, Ph.D., President and CEO of Mental Health America, will testify on Tuesday, June 23 before the Health Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee in a hearing to discuss a comprehensive health care reform bill unveiled last week by the Chairmen of the three lead health care reform committees in the House of Representatives: Energy and Commerce, Ways and Means, and Education and Labor.
Dr. Shern and Mental Health America commended the authors of this bill for their thoughtful proposals to expand coverage for the uninsured while improving the quality of care and reducing cost. The bill includes many provisions that would benefit people with mental health or substance use conditions who have traditionally not been well served by our current health care system
"We are very pleased to see the principle of non-discrimination and parity for behavioral health services would be maintained in the new provisions to cover the uninsured," said Dr. Shern.
Mental health and addiction treatment have historically been subject to blatantly discriminatory limits on coverage through private insurance plans. The Tri-Committee bill carries forward the principles established in federal law with the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (Pub. L. 110-343) enacted last year to prohibit unequal treatment limits and financial requirements for mental health and substance use treatment in group health plans.
"When funding is tight and benefits are reduced, mental health services are often the first place cuts are made," said Dr. Shern. "However, providing access to mental health services is essential in light of recent findings that a large proportion of low-income, uninsured individuals have poor mental health. The provision in the Tri-Committee bill to ensure that mental health and substance use services are available to all individuals included in the new program to cover the uninsured is absolutely critical."
"Phasing out the gap in coverage under Medicare Part D is also a crucial reform included in this bill," noted Dr. Shern. "The gap in coverage commonly referred to as the "doughnut hole" has proven very disruptive and even damaging for many mental health consumers unable to access critical medications because of it."
Mental Health America also strongly supports provisions in the bill to make sure people covered under the new federal program for the uninsured have access to rehabilitative and habilitative services. "We believe this reform would help lessen the high degree of unemployment among those with serious mental illness who currently are discouraged from working out of concern that they will lose Medicaid coverage and thus their access to critical community-based services that are not generally covered by private employer-based insurance," Dr. Shern explained.
Tragically, people with serious mental health conditions served in our public system die 25 years earlier than the general population due to other co-occurring health disorders including diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and asthma. Thus, Mental Health America strongly supports provisions in the Tri-Committee bill to improve chronic care management through medical homes and other models as well as the bill's proposals to increase reimbursement for primary care and enhance primary care services for people with mental health conditions.
Mental Health America is also greatly heartened by the high priority placed on improving access to preventive services and health promotion in the Tri-Committee bill particularly the provisions to eliminate cost-sharing for prevention services and proposals to fund community-based prevention and wellness services. Half of all people with a mental health diagnosis first experience it by age 14, but will not receive treatment until age 24. This ten-year delay in treatment and early age of onset interfere with a young person's ability to succeed in school and gain employment thus increasing the likelihood of developing a costly disability.
"As more people with mental health and substance use conditions receive health care coverage, it will be important to ensure the availability of behavioral health service providers. The Tri-Committee bill takes many important steps to address the shortage in mental health and addiction treatment professionals," said Dr. Shern.
Mental Health America is encouraged by the initiatives in the bill to improve the quality of care by incorporating the concerns and priorities of patients into comparative effectiveness research.
Celebrating 100 years of mental health education and advocacy, Mental Health America is the country's leading nonprofit dedicated to helping all people live mentally healthier lives With our more than 300 affiliates nationwide, we represent a growing movement of Americans who promote mental wellness for the health and well-being of the nation-every day and in times of crisis. In 2009, we are marking a century of achievement with a year-long Centennial Observance: "Celebrating the Legacy. Forging the Future."