BY MARIE ANDRUSEWICZ -- U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says that the $235 million in President Obama’s budget directed at mental health initiatives, as well as the move toward enacting mental health parity and the advent of the Affordable Care Act, are “very big steps forward” in treating a disease that’s been underfunded and up until now lacking urgency in the public dialogue.
“Even though 50 years ago President Kennedy identified mental illness as an issue that had to come out of the shadows, and said that that we needed to move people out of the institutions and provide community treatment, we still have a lot of work to do,” says Sebelius.
The Affordable Care Act will ensure that the 65 million people who suffer from mental illness and don’t have currently have access to insurance, will have access, says Sebelius. Enacting the Mental Health Parity Act, passed by Congress in 2008, means that whether an individual has diabetes or schizophrenia they will be entitled to the same amount of doctor visits and the same number of hospital days.
“For too long we’ve had two really huge barriers to treatment and support for the mentally ill and substance abusers. One is that people have been uninsured and under-insured and have had some kind of policy that doesn’t cover mental illness treatment at all or substance abuse treatment,” says Sebelius.
The second barrier, says Sebelius, is that insurance companies have treated mental illness differently from physical illness.
“Both are health issues but one was very limited in terms of what treatment and support was available,” says Sebelius.
Sebelius thinks it’s important that the dialogue on mental health issues continues to evolve at both the federal and state level. She says that states that cut treatment for mental health and substance abuse enjoy short-term budget savings, but reap long-term social issues.
“(The mentally ill) may end up as homeless, as not contributing to their familes, not contributing to their communities,” says Sebelius, when in fact mentally ill patients can receive affective treatment and recover.
“There are millions of Americans with mental health issues who are contributing, active members of societies, who pay taxes, who go to work every day,” says Sebelius.