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USA Today: Future of mental illnesses in Florida is in our hands
Recently released research into the origins of mental illnesses is opening the doors into hope for those who are suffering from these treatable disorders of the brain.
The findings underscore the biological nature of mental illnesses and spot-light the importance of unhindered and non-discriminatory access to crucial services and modern medicines.
The Mental Health Parity and Addictions Equity Act of 2008, is a ground-breaking law requiring insurance companies to provide coverage for the treatment of mental illnesses and addictions equal to any other medical condition.
Unfortunately, unequal insurance coverage still exists as costly burdens on doctors and patients, including impossibly time consuming prior authorizations for psychiatric medicines and requiring doctors to substitute different, cheaper medicines than those prescribed in the patient’s best interest.
The individual complexity of prescribing medications is best left in the hands of experts who know their patients and understand the catastrophic nature of disrupting continuity of medical care by intrusive, detrimental constraints on prescribing.
Interrupting access to medications or pressing people with serious mental illnesses to take the wrong medications can quickly spiral into unemployment, homelessness, jailing and suicide.
These outcomes are unique to mental illnesses and for the most part hidden and unreported yet they are the fundamental costs of overriding a physician’s judgment. Third party payers should report all adverse outcomes and grievances filed following denials of coverage, complex prior authorizations and “therapeutic substitution” of a physician’s judgement with cheaper medications.
Compounding access issues, people living with these disorders of the brain are often unable to navigate complicated denials, appeals and grievance procedures, in effect, pushing these medicines even farther from the reach of those who need them the most. The illusion of equal insurance coverage for psychiatric illnesses is a hidden slipping place.
As a person diagnosed with schizophrenia and a mood disorder, I understand the critical consequences of missing even a few doses of carefully prescribed medications. In fact, twenty-four hours without medications leads into hospitalization for me.
Discriminatory treatment of mental illnesses is not new. But in 2017 accessing modern psychiatric medications should be easier, not more difficult given what is known about surviving mental illnesses with hope and a future. Eventually, research and better medicines will make mental illnesses afflictions of the past.
But for now, enforcing mental health parity laws is vital. In addition, eliminating all discriminatory policies and practices impacting mental illnesses should be a legislative priority.
We, the people of the State of Florida, have already lost too many of our own to mental illnesses. But ensuring people with serious mental illnesses receive expert care and modern medications opens the doors into the hope of living productive and meaningful lives. The future of mental illnesses in Florida is in our hands and in the unity of a shared vision. We are all in this together.
Peggy Symons is a patient advocate with NAMI of Greater Orlando.
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