MENTAL HEALTH: Post-Columbine Care; Weekend Parity Reax
In the wake of the Columbine High School shootings, mental health providers have seen a "surge" in adolescent patients thought to be suffering from "serious emotional problems." Magellan Behavioral Health, "which refers 64 million adults and children to mental health programs nationwide," reported a 25% jump in May over the same period last year. Magellan spokesperson Erin Somers said, "It appears that people all across the country are so shaken by this incident that they're not taking any chances" (Skiles Luke, AP/Boston Globe, 6/14).
Cost/Benefits in Doubt
Washington Post "Federal Diary" columnist Mike Causey reports that the mental health parity requirement for federal employee health plans "may not cost as much as premium-payers fear," but also "may not be as helpful in cutting out-of-pocket costs for psychiatric services as some workers anticipate." The key unknown: "How many more people will use expanded benefits?" Former Office of Personnel Management chief actuary Edwin Hustead noted that "the federal program has often been more generous in mental health coverage than most private-sector plans," but that "the percentage of people using the coverage and the percentage of costs vs. total payouts have been lower than in the private sector" (6/13).
Weekend editorial reactions to mental health initiatives:
- A Washington Post editorial argues that a mental health parity bill sponsored by Sens. Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Paul Wellstone (D-MN) "may well pass," as "this is a hard cause to which to say no." But the paper notes that "the benefit is accompanied by costs," and raises troubling questions about whether Congress -- which "doesn't have to bear the cost nor bear directly the blame for raising cost" -- is the "right forum for deciding what private health insurance contracts should be made to cover" (6/14).
- The Chicago Tribune lauds Vice President Gore's focus on mental health and the Clinton administration's decision to require mental health parity for plans in the Federal Employee Health Benefit Plan as "worthwhile initiatives toward the goal of making such care more widely available." However, the paper cautions that proposals like the Domenici-Wellstone bill "won't fix anything without the cooperation of employers -- who would have to pay for them -- or consumer demand for such benefits." The Tribune concludes "it is public awareness and demand for treatment ... that will get for victims of mental illness the understanding and the support that they need" (6/13).
- A St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial argues that failing to pass the "modest" mental health parity bill "would be short-sighted. Helping people control mental illness before it forces them out of their jobs or bankrupts them is an investment worth making" (6/13).
- Syndicated columnist Arianna Huffington writes in the New York Post that the Clinton/Gore-led mental health conference last week "turned out to be mainly a cheerleading session for drug manufacturers." Citing the potential dangers of prescription drugs -- and noting that several recent high-profile murder cases have occurred while the perpetrators were on anti-depressants -- Huffington writes, "The conference was supposed to 'burst myths' about mental illness, but it never got to the truth behind the myths: that human beings consist of a soul as well as a brain. And there will never be a drug to cure a troubled soul" (6/12).
- Joseph Rogers, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania, writes in a Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed that the conference "showed that a powerful new force is developing and that some real solutions are being discussed. ... A window has been opened in the darkness, and I am not alone with my mental illness anymore" (6/13).