A Tale of Two Patients—and One Deadly Form of Discrimination

Consider the experience of these two patients:

Patient One has a heart attack. He goes to a hospital, and like most patients who have suffered a heart attack or have pneumonia, he is admitted. An electronic notice will be sent to his insurance company the next business day.

Patient Two is deeply depressed and has tried to commit suicide. He goes to a hospital for help. Before treating the patient, the doctor first must call a toll-free number, “present the case in voluminous detail, and get prior authorization,” Dr. Paul Summergrad, president-elect of the American Psychiatric Assn., said in a recent New York Times article.

Why the difference?

For decades insurance companies have been allowed to treat mental illness as if it is somehow not a real disease. Their rules and regulations made it tougher for a person suffering from mental illness or addiction to get help. While this may help an insurer’s bottom line, it does nothing to help our society.

Mental illness has been a major factor in many of the mass shootings that have devastated our nation, from the Newton, Conn. elementary school massacre, to the killings at a Naval shipyard in Washington, D.C. Drug addiction plays a major role in many more crimes every day in this country. Just ask any cop.

Treating mental illness and addiction the same way we treat physical illness seems like common sense, but insurance companies have done just the opposite—until now.

Last week, the New York Times reported that the Obama Administration completed an effort to require insurance companies to cover care for mental health and addiction the same way they cover physical illnesses.

The long-awaited regulations defining parity in benefits and treatment have been many years in the making. And they are a critical part of the president’s plan to reduce gun violence. According to the New York Times, the regulations address “an issue on which there is bipartisan agreement: Making treatment more available to those with mental illness could reduce killings, including mass murders.”

The regulations will also extend to people covered by the Affordable Care Act. These new rules are expected to be particularly helpful to returning veterans, such as those suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.

As we continue to search for a way to end the violence that terrorizes this nation, this is a major step in the right direction.


Let’s Talk

JUST RETURNED home from a family reunion in Jackson, MS. We finished the banquet just minutes before the Zimmerman verdict came in. The emcee at the banquet asked for comments prior to closing. I didn’t say anything, but I should have. I should have tried to prepare the family for a verdict that may be upsetting to them for several reasons. First, I felt we had been outlawyered, just as we were in an appalling number of high profile cases. Think back for a minute: Delorean, O.J., Robert Blake, Phil Spector, Casey Anthony and the cops in the Rodney King beating. There are reasons for this, but that’s another discussion. More to the point at hand, I should have urged them to have a serious discussion with their black children. Things like illuminating the interior of their vehicles if pulled over by the police at night. This gives the approaching police officer an advantage, thereby lowering anxiety and promoting a more positive outcome. They also have to realize that there are far too many “Zimmermans” out there. We have to develop strategies to ease tensions during encounters with them as well.

The difficult part about this discussion is that our young people feel that they should not have to. And, they are right! But in the short term, we need to think survival and use this incident to galvanize us into political activism and not just on the  national level. While we were busy posting on Facebook and Tweeting on mundane matters, a lot of dangerous and repressive laws were passed on the state and local levels. The “stand your ground” law leads the pack.  Until these laws are challenged and overturned and they must be, we should use every available stratagem available to protect our children.

I didn’t say anything Saturday night, but black parents must…but they should not have to!


(image: trayvon martin via eonline)