AG Coakley Urges Focus on Mental Health Services in Speech to Public Health Commission
BOSTON – Saying that mental health services are as necessary to the proper treatment of many patients as physical health care, Attorney General Coakley today called for a continued focus on mental health services and parity in a keynote speech before the Public Health Commission’s Cost Trends Hearing.
“As a health care community, we must all focus on making sure that mental health services are available and accessible to all who need it,” AG Coakley said. “We owe it to the patients who are silently suffering, we owe it to our veterans who return home with injuries we cannot see but can be equally debilitating, and we owe it to families who have loved ones they are trying to help but may not know how.”
There are millions of people and families dealing with the effects of mental illness across our country. According to the National Institute on Mental Health, one in four adults suffers from a diagnosable mental disorder in any given year. Serious mental illness—defined as resulting in serious functional impairment, which substantially limits one or more major life activities—affects 1 in 17 people. And in a time when soldiers have returned from two separate wars, studies have shown that 20% of returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans report symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or major depression.
In her remarks, Coakley referenced her brother Edward who battled mental illness for much of his life, and committed suicide at age 33.
Coakley has said that the first step toward solving this problem is ending the stigma associated with mental illness, the perception that somehow mental illness is viewed as less “valid” than physical illness. That is a great barrier to people seeking treatment and all too often prevents families from acknowledging the issue in the first place.
Barriers also exist to timely, appropriate and consistent behavioral healthcare, and access to psychiatrists and psychotherapists, for children in particular, are a challenge in many regions. Coakley has also called for a focus on ensuring that mental health treatment is available in emergency and non-emergency situations.
“This will take a commitment from everyone in the health care community and in government to find solutions to ensure that access to quality mental health care is a reality for everyone,” AG Coakley said.
AG Coakley has brought actions against national health carriers that have failed to comply with Massachusetts laws requiring coverage of mental health services to Massachusetts patients. Since she has taken office, AG Coakley has brought seven cases against national insurers - amounting to $5.6 million in payments to consumers and the state – that include allegations that the insurer specifically failed to cover mental health services as required by law.
In May, she sent a letter to America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) reiterating the mental health requirements for all carriers and urging their compliance with Massachusetts law.