In addition to being a social justice activist, wife, mom, and friend, I’m also a mental health professional. Though I value all of these roles, they often interact in unsettling ways. And that happens for one key reason – the American healthcare system (and mental health care system, in particular) is broken. The ways that these issues affect me (and millions around the country) are not political. They are sometimes literally a matter of life and death. And each time they touch my life, I think about how hard Congressman Joe Kennedy (for whom I volunteer) is working to fix them.
- Mental and physical healthcare costs are not reimbursed for healthcare consumers equitably.
This means that when my friends and family are looking for mental health services, one of their first questions is how much of it will be covered by insurance. It means that when some of the people closest to me in the world are frantically looking for mental health care for their sick children, I spend as much time considering costs as I do thinking about type and quality of care.
Congressman Kennedy is leading the fight for equitable reimbursement for mental and physical healthcare. In collaboration with Senator Elizabeth Warren, his latest effort is The Behavioral Health Coverage Transparency Act, which would give teeth to laws already on the books.
As noted in Kennedy and Warren’s op-ed earlier this year, although it is illegal (per the Mental Health Parity and Equity Act), widespread discrepancies exist in the extent to which insurance companies actually pay for healthcare services, with far higher rates of claim rejection in cases of mental health treatment. Kennedy’s Behavioral Health Coverage Transparency Act would require disclosure of reimbursement rates by insurance companies, routine audits of reimbursements, and creation of a user-friendly portal for consumers to access parity information and submit complaints.
- Mental health services are not compensated adequately.
Every mental health clinician I know grapples with this issue: will they accept insurance, or private pay only? These clinicians are “helpers.” They are professionals who studied for an extra 6-10 years after college for the purpose of alleviating suffering. No one becomes a mental health professional to get rich. But when faced with a choice of spending countless hours of unpaid time struggling though insurance forms to then be reimbursed by an insurance company at a rate less than professionals with far less education or clinical responsibility (e.g., hair stylist), it can be difficult to choose to accept insurance. I personally try to strike a compromise by working in both the private sector (where I do not work with insurance companies) and the public sector (where patients pay little or nothing). It assuages my guilt, but I don’t feel great about it. I want a mental health care system where I don’t ever feel like part of the problem.
Congressman Kennedy is working to increase rates of reimbursement for mental health providers. Specifically, he introduced the Medicaid Bump Act, which would increase federal Medicaid reimbursement rates for mental health treatment.
- There is not a system of mental health in the US that provides readily accessible care, or smooth transitions across levels of care (that is, across inpatient care, residential care, intensive outpatient care, and routine outpatient care).
This means that when a loved one was looking for inpatient mental health care for her child who was dangerously ill, it was a frantic search across the state. And it means that when that child was discharged, I was on-call to help because we couldn’t find an appropriate level of care for her in the week after she left the hospital (when someone is mostly likely to die by suicide). It means I act as a proxy patient advocate and case manager for loved ones and their children who hope that because I’m in the field, I can get their child into a mental health program sooner than the 6-8 week wait that they’ve been quoted. Only I can’t. And I can’t imagine what it is like for the countless families trying to navigate this “system” without a friend or family member who understands it to help them.
Congressman Kennedy is working to protect Americans healthcare, including mental health care for the 1 in 5 American adults who experience mental illness each year (according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, NAMI). He took on the Trump Republicans trying to end the ACA (e.g., see his act of malice comments), and fought for CHIP when Trump and company let it expire (e.g., see his op-ed on the issue). Last year, his commitment to mental health reform was honored with the Science and Parity in Mental Health Award from the premiere organization for scientifically-based psychotherapies (the Association of Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, ABCT).
I hope 2020 is a year of many victories to get Americans the healthcare they deserve.