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On parity: I suppose we should celebrate, but...

October 7, 2008
by Ann Borders
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The news of the passage of the long-awaited parity bill brings mixed feelings from this corner of the provider world. On the one hand, behavioral health disorders will finally be recognized as bona fide medical conditions. On the other hand, though, I’m sure that many of our readers will mark the occasion by remembering those who didn’t survive the pre-parity days.

I recall a few years ago when an actively suicidal 16-year-old girl was denied inpatient care because she had reached her insurance plan’s lifetime maximum for behavioral health. (I believe it was $1,000.) We pasted together a 24/7 safety plan with her family and they made it through the crisis, but I remember wondering if this is the best that our society can do for its young people. Then there was the 15-year-old boy who had made several attempts on his life. He was denied admission at three different hospitals. We couldn’t prove it, but we were fairly convinced that his insurance plan wasn’t to the liking of those inpatient facilities. While the insurance coverage failed the test, the boy succeeded in taking his own life.

How many other victims were there, and how much suffering could have been prevented by just a little common sense in Washington? (If it had to have been about the money, our elected officials had no excuses because they’d been supplied with compelling evidence of the cost benefits of behavioral health coverage.)

Looking toward the future, we know that many families will benefit from this historic legislation. But let us continue our advocacy in memory of those who lost so much for such pathetic reasons.

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Comments

Charles and Leslie remind us that advocacy is like painting the Golden Gate bridge the work is never finished. To those legions of people who worked so persistently for so many years, we commend you on this monumental milestone. Those who will benefit from parity in the future have you to thank!

Ann and Doug, you are both so right. Parity was long overdue. So many times it felt like the passage of parity legislation was "just around the corner". So many people advocated for so many years at so many levels (local, state and federal) to press for parity. As Ann points out, the money/data argument was made years ago. Also, the data tells us that lack of knowledge as to where to seek treatment and concerns about the ability to pay for treatment are two top reasons people do not seek care or ultimately get care. Now we must make sure parity works at overcoming these barriers to accessing care.

Yes, of course...but...One thing I've learned after so many years in Washington is that most real change only comes after long years of advocacy. It's important to celebrate success, whenever we are lucky enough to have it. More than 60 years after Harry Truman, we are still working on universal health care. We celebrate Medicare and Medicaid and SCHIP and now Parity as steps in the right direction despite the fact that people are still dying or suffering needlessly because they don't have decent coverage. Each success gives us hope that we will someday reach the goal.

I completely agree, and I argue a similar point in my editorial in the October issue. This legislation took too long.

Ann Borders

President and CEO, Cummins Behavioral Health Systems, Inc

http://cumminsbhs.org/

Ann Borders is president and CEO of Cummins Behavioral Health Systems, Inc., serving eight...