They Actually Did It: Your Mental Health Care Benefits? Same as for Physical Care. Fancy That.

The truth is that if you have a TV or radio, or you get a newspaper, you hardly need me to run through this again for you. But just in case you missed the headline news, or felt too blue to go out and pick up the paper from the driveway, or–and this is as good a reason as any–you just wanted to hear it again–well, I am more than happy to be the one to say it:

They did it.

They passed the Mental Health Parity Act.

Big whup, you say? Who really cares?

I can assure you here–many, many, many people. People who have struggled with mental illness, who are trying to fight the fight, but realizing they can’t possibly win without heavy armor, strong generals, and an impenetrable rear flank. These people, as of today, have a fighting change of holding back the onslaught.

Just as one example, many moons ago, when I was in my late teens, I had to be psychiatrically hospitalized. We were incredibly lucky that a long stay was covered–under my parents’ policy, of course, which I soon was no longer welcome on.

And for the next two decades – yes, I mean decades – most of my psychiatric care (that includes anything that you would call ‘preventive care’) was paid for out-of-pocket. Some of this was our fault: I have a complicated case medically speaking, and the psychiatrists on my plan (usually a choice of three or four) were a –what’s a nice way of putting it?–mediocre crew, who really couldn’t begin to manage the case with its ups and downs and interactions and side effects. I was also limited to five visits a year on my plan while living in New York –five visits didn’t begin to touch the problem. I would have used them up by February.

That plan offered me 10 pre-approved cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) sessions–only with someone on that plan. Desperate, I selected someone and went–although I couldn’t find out anything about any of the treaters, online, through referral, nothing.  A kind man, my therapist didn’t seem to have heard of the concept of CBT, or if he had, perhaps he had developed an aversion to it.  This insurance-approved therapist had many other interest, though, for what that’s worth. We spent the time shooting the breeze. He asked about Chicago architecture, about what it was like attending an Ivy League college, about whether I preferred teaching boys or girls. My depression, perhaps unsurprisingly, was unalleviated by the time I had used up my allotted number of sessions.

My health care plan upon my inevitable return to Chicago didn’t shine so bright either, and once again we needed to pick a psychiatrist off the plan for me to have a fighting chance. I believe that plan had no therapy option at all. What I found ironic about the insurances cheeping out on steady, quality psychiatric care was that they paid the price – figuratively and literally: They paid in full for two psychiatric hospitalizations and for three rounds of ECT.

But imagine the previous scenario with a different beginning, as it would have if it took place as of today.

Imagine a late teen, starting out after a hard go and a bad episode, but able to stay on her parents’ insurance, able to muster up the courage to start over,  to head out to college, where she and her parents could look through the choices on their plan and find an actual quality psychiatrist, who, instead of seeing her five times a year, can follow her closely, watching for dips and fending them off at the pass.  Add to that the support of a psychologist covered under the plan, and you have a young adult who, rather than falling victim to her mental illness and becoming a member of the growing disabled population–well, instead this young woman has a new chance at life.

And all that is just because the government [the same government that we can deride so fiercely, that we treat with such skepticism, that can’t create a computer program to sign up people for health insurance–that same one government should get full credit for this] decided that people with mental illness should actually be treated the same as everybody else.

Fancy that.

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