Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) were among the speakers at a Capitol Hill rally for parity legislation last month. Cummings is chair and Waters is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. See story below.
Parity for coverage of mental illness and substance abuse is needed now. That was the message that APA Medical Director James H. Scully Jr., M.D., sent to Congress at a rally on Capitol Hill last month.
The rally was organized by the Congressional Black, Hispanic, Asian and Pacific Islander, and Native American caucuses to urge Congress to address the health care needs of uninsured Americans.
Among those who attended the rally were representatives of church, civil rights, and advocacy groups; patients; members of the National Medical Association; and the Gray Panthers.
APA Medical Director James H. Scully Jr., M.D., poses with Erika A. Goodwin, M.D., the 2003 APA/AACAP Jeanne Spurlock Congressional Fellow, at last month’s parity rally. Goodwin works in the office of Rep. Donna Christian-Christensen (D-Virgin Islands), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Health BrainTrust.
"The bitter irony is that this is occurring at a time when our ability to treat mental illness has never been more effective," said Scully.
Minority populations are among the most vulnerable to mental illness because they tend to have less access to mental health services, receive less mental health care when they do access it, and are underrepresented among professionals who provide mental health services, according to Scully. In addition, the quality of services provided to minorities tends to be poorer.
He urged that immediate attention be paid to the "crumbing public and private mental health care systems."
"First and foremost, we need to stop insurance companies from legally discriminating against patients seeking treatment for mental illnesses. The notion that it should be acceptable to tell [people] that they get less care because they have a brain illness should be offensive to every American," said Scully.
Congress should pass the Paul Wellstone Mental Health Equitable Treatment Act of 2003 right now, Scully said emphatically. But Congress needs to do more, such as taking steps to
• Ensure that Americans who are most vulnerable to mental illness—the poor, uninsured, homeless, and minorities—have the right to a comprehensive evaluation and an accurate diagnosis, leading to an appropriate, individualized treatment plan.
• Create a national health care system so that mental health care is patient and family centered, community based, easily accessible, and culturally sensitive and has no administrative and financial barriers.
• Ensure that health care—which includes mental health care—is readily available for patients of all ages, in particular children and the elderly, and ethnic and racial minorities. All patients should be treated with respect and dignity.
• Ensure that treatment for mental illness is coupled with treatment for substance abuse and other medical illnesses.
• Maintain the federal government’s commitment to research into the causes of mental illness as the vital foundation for new and more effective treatments.
• Devote more resources to training an adequate supply of mental health professionals.
"So on behalf of the American Psychiatric Association, I am proud to stand with you today to call for full and nondiscriminatory coverage of treatment of mental illness as a vital and integral part of the national health care coverage debate," said Scully. "Let us please remember those among us who are the most vulnerable and have the greatest need of a helping hand." ▪
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