Editorial: Mental health parity, ‘Excellence’ act, should be priorities


Adequate mental health services and parity are not simply medical issues, but ones of basic human rights. It’s time that Congress and the federal government address them as such and deliver much-need care to millions of Americans and their families.Two key measures, one legislative and the other regulatory, represent historic opportunities to address what 50 years ago President John F. Kennedy called one of our nation’s most critical health problems.The first, the Excellence in Mental Health Act of 2013, could bring Medicaid-funded mental health services to 1.5 million Americans.Co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the act was a bipartisan response to the massacre in Newtown, Conn., late last year but ran aground amid Senate discord over gun control. A bill to expand school mental health services met a similar fate.

The bill would pump $2.8 billion into communities to help them initiate or expand 24-hour psychiatric crisis intervention, mental health screenings and counseling, allowing mental health centers to bill Medicaid for mental health treatments much like physical health services.Under the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies can be billed for mental health services, yet community mental health offices cannot get fully reimbursed by Medicaid for all services.The bill would support the expansion of existing centers and construction of new centers. This is especially crucial in Michigan, which closed three-quarters of the state’s psychiatric hospitals between 1987 and 2003. Michigan’s 46 Community Mental Health Centers serve about 200,000 people each year. About 500,000 people in Michigan are seriously mentally ill; more than half don’t receive publicly funded treatment.

The bill has broad support and deserves quick passage.The second involves the application of standing law and the administration’s failure to develop regulations that meet the intent of the statute.The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 was supposed to require that insurers would cover mental illnesses just as they cover treatment for diseases like canceror multiple sclerosis.

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