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New plan to transform U.S. mental health care

The United States can start to transform its fragmented mental health care system requiring insurers to treat mental illnesses like any other disease, a group of 16 organizations proposed.
/ Source: Reuters

The United States can start to transform its fragmented mental health care system requiring insurers to treat mental illnesses like any other disease, a group of 16 organizations proposed Wednesday.

The coalition of groups laid out a 28-point “road map” for Congress and the administration

“We proposed quite a few changes which we believe can be done in the short term,” Charles Konigsberg, director of the Campaign for Mental Health Reform, said in a telephone interview.

For one, Congress could enact the mental health parity legislation that has been pending. Medicaid could use its money more wisely by paying for cost-effective home care instead of institutionalized care, he added.

Families should be allowed to buy into Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance plan for the poor, to get access to treatment for their children.

“Medicare unfortunately discriminates against people with mental illness by requiring higher co-payments for mental health outpatient care. That could be fixed,” Konigsberg added.

Current system 'in disarray'
The groups, including several national mental health advocacy organizations, said they were acting on President Bush’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health Report, released in 2003.

It found that the system designed to provide services to people who need mental health care is “fragmented and in disarray, lead(ing) to unnecessary and costly disability, homelessness, school failure and incarceration.”

It called for a “fundamental transformation of the Nation’s approach to mental health care.”

“Yet, since the release of the commission’s report, 63,000 Americans have died by suicide; more than 200,000 Americans with mental illnesses have been incarcerated; more than 25,000 families have given up custody of their children in order to get mental health services,” said Michael Faenza, president of the National Mental Health Association.

The groups estimate there are 20 million U.S. adults and 6 million children and teenagers in the U.S. with serious mental illness.

These include people with schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disease and less obvious disorders as well.

“War veterans and 9/11 first-responders with traumatic stress; children suffering with disorders that, untreated, can lead to school failure; people with severe depression that can lead to suicide; homeless adults suffering hallucinations and hunger; people suffering in silence due to stigma or lack of accessible treatment-all deserve the hope, dignity and promise of productive lives,” Konigsberg said.

Among the 28 proposals, which can be found on the Internet at

  • Provide early identification and effective treatment for returning veterans at risk of post-traumatic stress disorders and their families
  • Provide early detection and intervention services to mothers and children who receive health care at federally funded maternal and child health clinics
  • Fund programs to divert people with mental illnesses who have committed nonviolent crimes into treatment instead of jail or prison.

Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., said he hoped to get parity legislation passed this year.

“More and more employers understand that the cost of not providing mental health treatment is hurting their bottom line, because of lost work and lost productivity,” Kennedy added in a statement.