- The Washington Times - Monday, January 11, 2010


The attack by Richard E. Vatz and Jeffrey A. Schaler on mental health parity (“Mental health Trojan horse,” Opinion, Dec. 31) rests on false assumptions and distortions regarding mental health conditions and the delivery of services.

Their premise that including mental health coverage will open the floodgates to frivolous problems neglects the fact that medical necessity criteria ensure access to treatment is appropriate and required.

Even if one accepts their flimsy argument that anyone could be diagnosed with a mental health condition, there is no requirement in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to cover any condition listed. There is a difference between having a diagnosis and needing treatment. Many people each year have a diagnosis of a respiratory infection, but most require no formal medical treatment. The same is true for mental illnesses.

Cost estimates of parity have shown it won’t drain our treasury. The Congressional Budget Office found that the new federal parity law will raise premiums less than 1 percent. In two states that adopted parity, health costs dropped 30-50 percent while the percentage of the population accessing some care increased 1-2 percent.

In fact, not addressing these conditions takes a much greater toll on public and private bank accounts. The World Health Organization has said that mental health conditions are the most burdensome health conditions in the United States. Severe mental illnesses alone cost the United States $193 billion in lost wages in 2002.

Research shows that mental health conditions such as depression are commonly associated with diabetes, asthma, heart disease and obesity. People with these other chronic conditions who also have a mental disorder like depression will experience greater functional disability, a poorer quality of life, increased medical spending and - if the depression is not effectively treated - higher mortality rates than people who have chronic conditions without mental disorders.

From the surgeon general’s landmark report on mental health to President Bush’s Commission on Mental Health, the bottom line is clear - mental illnesses are real and there are effective treatments for them.

It is time to end the false distinctions and ensure that we provide science-based therapies that treat the whole person. Effectively treating mental health conditions reduces costs, increases productivity and is the smart thing to do.


President and CEO, Mental Health America


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