Traverse City Record-Eagle

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March 16, 2012

Forum: Time to end mental illness bias

There is a similarity that exists between physical and mental health disabilities; the fact that no one can control if they suffer from either.

Even though both physical disabilities and mental disabilities can pose negative impacts on a person's life, mental illnesses are often excluded from health care coverage.

For too long, Michigan private health insurance companies have overlooked mental illnesses, substance use disorders and developmental disabilities, causing hundreds of Michigan families to pay high health care costs out-of-pocket.

According to a 2010 National Institute of Mental Health study, 20 percent of youth during their lifetime are affected by some type of mental disorder to an extent that they have difficulty functioning.

Studies show that 11 percent to 13 percent experience severe disorders that significantly impair their daily lives.

Gov. Snyder and the Legislature have taken notice to the issue and have passed bills to improve private insurance coverage of autism spectrum disorders. Additionally, the governor proposed establishing a $15 million state fund to assist in this effort.

Although Senate Bills 414 and 415 mandate improved private insurance coverage for autism spectrum disorders, it excludes all other neuropsychiatric disorders. The bills are a step in the right direction but there is still room for discrimination against equally severe mental health disorders.

Michigan Partners for Parity, a statewide coalition of more than 60 organizations, is pushing the Legislature to adopt a new state law that improves private insurance coverage for all mental illnesses, substance use disorders, and persuasive developmental disorders. This law would ensure that mental health and substance use disorder benefits are affordable for families.

Michigan is one of only seven states without a mental health insurance parity law.

Out of the 43 states that have passed parity laws, 20 of those states have passed additional legislation to enhance and expand their law. Additionally, not one of those states has repealed its parity laws.

The state of Michigan should take note of this and strive to cover all mental health and substance use disorders before focusing on just one disability.

In most cases, children have overlapping and multiple disorders. Children with autism spectrum disorder have a two to six times greater risk of experiencing co-occurring psychiatric conditions than their normal peers.

In 2006, a study showed that in a cohort of 10- to 14-year-old children with autism spectrum disorder, 70 percent had at least one co-morbid psychiatric disorder and 41 percent had two or more. These children need therapy and medication for every mental health disorder they suffer from, not just autism.

A new law that encompasses health care coverage for all mental health disorders would help Michigan residents seek the treatment they need, while reducing the costs. Building support for this proposed parity law brings about awareness of mental health disorders that in turn fuels change in the Legislature.

It is change within our government that improves the welfare of those in need, and the residents of Michigan. For more information, visit www.macmhb.org.

About the author: Mike Vizena is director of the Michigan Association of Community Mental Health Boards.

About the forum: The forum is a periodic column of opinion written by Record-Eagle readers in their areas of interest or expertise. Submissions of 500 words or less may be made by emailing letters@record-eagle.com. Please include biographical information and a photo.

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