Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Parity – Patriots Continue the Fight

 On September 18th, in Los Angeles, California, The Parity Implementation Coalition held its 5th “Parity Field Hearing” of 2012 at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. The purpose behind the 2012 Parity Field Hearings is to highlight the persistent insurance and treatment inequities faced by patients and providers because we still lack final rules and regulations for the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA). The 2012 Hearings are modeled after the field hearings in 2007, which were successful in pushing President Bush to sign MHPAEA into law.
The President of the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, Dr. Michele Nealon-Woods, opened the Los Angeles event, introducing former Members of Congress Patrick J. Kennedy and Jim Ramstad, known as the “Parity Champions," who educated as well as rallied the crowd with their opening remarks. Congressmen Kennedy and Ramstad proclaimed with inspiring passion that there is a “political urgency” to pass the final rules and regulations so that those affected by mental illness can finally access treatment on par with those suffering a physical illness. Of particular concern for Kennedy is how access to mental health treatment for our “nation’s heroes," our returning Veterans and active duty members of the military, is grossly inadequate and costing lives. He quoted alarming statistics from the September 17, 2012 IOM consensus report, “Substance Use Disorders in the U.S. Armed Forces," and shared that over 50% of returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans will try to access care for what are being called, “invisible wounds," such as depression, PTSD, and eating disorders, only to be turned away because of the lack of access to treatment. Congressman Ramstad called the practices that insurance companies use to circumvent the law an “outrage and travesty” and noted that “too many people don’t realize these are life and death issues." He also admonished the administration by sharing that his research shows that no other bill has ever needed this long for the administration to adopt final rules and regulations. Both men called on the administration and the Secretaries of Labor, Treasury and Health and Human Services to take exigent action to address the lack of final rules and regulations, which would thus provide the long awaited oversight necessary to hold accountable the insurance companies who have been circumventing the MHPAEA.
The night then moved on to three panels of speakers. The first panel included a dad and son, Kevin and Connor Kinnon. Kevin told the story of how his son Connor suffered with severe depression that led to suicide attempts, in part because Connor was never given adequate treatment despite the fact that his dad had high quality insurance. NAMI President Keris Myrick shared her story of hope and recovery, recovery that was possible because she had access to the treatment she needed for her schizoaffective disorder and OCD. Navy Veteran Vikash Sharma shared his heart-wrenching battle to receive proper treatment for his PTSD that had gone undiagnosed for four years post-discharge from the Navy. The second panel included the former Director of the California Department of Managed Care, the Chief Psychologist at the U.S. Veterans Initiative, a Research Psychologist from UCLA’s Integrated Substance Abuse, and Lisa Kantor, a Los Angeles lawyer and partner in Kantor & Kantor LLP who represents people denied health benefits for treatment of both physical and mental illnesses, including eating disorders. The third panel of speakers included the President and CEO of the Betty Ford Center, the President-elect of the California Society of Addiction Medicine, the Director of Government Regulations for the Clinical Social Work Association, and the President-elect of the California Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
Many people are familiar with California attorney, Lisa Kantor, EDC Board Member, who spoke on Panel Two. Lisa Kantor’s dedication to those affected by eating disorders is widely known and well-respected for many reasons, but perhaps most notably she is known because of her case involving Jeanene Harlick. Ms. Harlick’s case became the basis upon which the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based its ruling that health plans must provide coverage for all “medically necessary treatment” for eating disorders “under the same financial terms as those applied to physical illnesses.” During her speech at the field hearing, Ms. Kantor shared stories of just how egregiously insurance companies violate the law when doling out access to care for those suffering with eating disorders. She told of a young woman whose insurance company denied her continued treatment because they felt that since she had reduced her laxative use down to 50 per day (mind you this decrease was only accomplished because she was in 24 hour treatment and closely monitored), she no longer needed treatment. And she shared the story of a young woman who died after her stomach ruptured as a result of bulimia. Unfortunately that same young woman had been denied treatment in the years prior to her death because her insurance company didn’t treat offer coverage for her eating disorder on par with the coverage they offered for physical illnesses.
Ms. Kantor concluded her speech with an essential statement, a statement we hope Secretaries Geithner, Solis and Sebelius will heed and act upon with urgency: “These kinds of disparities happen to people with eating disorders every day. These kinds of disparities are killing people.  And these disparities are why we urgently need the rules and regulations in place and we need the Final Rules and Regulations to specifically include eating disorders under Parity. “
The next Parity Field Hearing takes place in Delray Beach, Florida on October 9, 2012 and is sponsored in part by EDC Member Organizations, The Alliance for Eating Disorders and Oliver Pyatt Treatment Center. At the Florida hearing, Congressmen Kennedy and Ramstad will once again rally consumers, professionals and all those concerned about persons suffering from mental illness, urging the administration to put in place the long overdue and life-saving final rules and regulations for the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act. For more information about the Hearings or to share your story about inadequate parity, visit: www.parityispersonal.org  The Eating Disorders Coalition will continue to be highly active in the Parity Implementation's bold and courageous efforts to ensure that final rules and regulations are enacted as soon as possible. Please contact us to get involved: www.eatingdisorderscoalition.org

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