By: Nasheetah Hossain
After having received inpatient care for three weeks, Minnesota resident Max Tillitt was beginning to make progress with his heroin addiction. Soon after, his family was informed that their healthcare plan (United Behavioral Health, a unit of UnitedHealth Group) would no longer cover his treatment.
Ten weeks later, Max Tillitt was found dead of an overdose. He was 21 years old
The epidemic of worsening mental health and suicidal tendencies in the nation is spiking more drastically than ever. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), more than 47,000 people lost their lives to suicide in 2017 with an estimated 1,400,000 more attempts. Since 2001 that rate illustrates a 31 percent increase for women, while the suicide rate for men is almost four times higher.
The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Act, a law passed almost 11 years ago, requires health plans and insurers provide mental health and substance use disorder benefits that are comparable to regular medical and surgical ones. From when Congress passed the act in 2008 to 2016, the suicide rate in the nation increased by 16 percent, while the rate of fatal overdoses spiked by 66 percent.
“The health insurers are not following the federal law requiring parity in the reimbursement for mental health and addiction; they must be held responsible,” President Trump’s commission on the opioid crisis wrote in its report in November 2017.
As expected, insurance companies were unsupportive of this from the very beginning. Many from the industry formed a group called the Coalition for Parity which attempted to reduce the requirements, but it was dismissed by a judge.
This however, did not stop the insurance companies from finding loopholes to deny patients of their rights. Evidence of this lies in very subtle movements. Many benefit plans, for example, no longer provide patients with any more coverage on mental health care than they do on medical health care. Patients frequently encounter the issue of “ghost networks,” which is essentially what happens when insurance providers give clients directories with dead ends for treatment. Many of these providers are unreachable, devoid of any vacancies. Some are not even in the insurance’s coverage network.
According to Bloomberg Businessweek, mental service providers are often paid less than medical service providers. In addition to that, many practitioners are often turned away when they want to join certain networks.
For example, Melissa Davies, a psychologist in Defiance County, Ohio, was associated with Anthem Blue Cross’ insurance company. Anthem Blue Cross refused to take her in later even though there were only two other psychologists in the county.
“I found a great number of their providers were no longer practicing, or were dead,” Davies said after reviewing Anthem’s directory, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.
Every day, there are an average of 129 suicides in the nation. Mental illness in its varying forms is now a national crisis, and there have been no significant changes evident in the way insurance companies are handling this. The problem does not lie in regulating rules of the Parity Law, but rather in enforcing them.
However, there is still hope. Citizens across the country are becoming more aware of their rights, and are suing and winning cases. There is a national movement present and thriving to fight the stigma against mental health care, and fighting to create a more accepting society for people who suffer from different mental illnesses. The first and most crucial step in the right direction is providing the U.S. Department of Labor with more resources to evaluate and regulate the thousands of insurance plans that are out there.