Conference Looks at Mental Health Parity Issues

Liz Carey

Washington, DC ( – The real issue with mental health currently is not its alleged connection to gun violence, but with getting equal access to care for the millions of Americans with mental illnesses.

More than 24 million Americans with mental health issues are going untreated, according to Mental Health America. Across the country, more than half of all the adults with mental illness, or 56.4 percent, receive no treatment for their illness.

According to a study done by the group, one in five adults with a mental illness reports that they “were not able to receive the treatment they needed.” Those seeking treatment cited lack of insurance, a shortage of mental health workers, a lack of treatment types, disconnects between the primary care system and the behavioral health system and a lack of funds to cover the costs of treatment as reasons why treatment was not available to them.

According to John Jordan, spokesperson for the Disability Management Employer Coalition, employers with group health plans and health insurance issuers should ensure that the financial requirements and treatment limitations on Mental Health or Substance Use Disorder benefits are not more restrictive than those on medical or surgical benefits.

“While employers tend to comply with quantitative limits on mental health, there’s a real problem with non-quantitative limits. These can make it difficult to access mental health care and effectively nullify the parity guarantee in federal and many state laws,” Jordan said in an email.

The topic was one of several DMEC focused on during its annual meeting recently at the National Harbor outside of Washington, D.C.

The issue, organization members said, didn’t stop with treatment, but extended into getting employees with mental health illnesses back to work.

“However, when employees are away from work… because of a mental health condition, it can be challenging for employers to help them transition back to work,” said Darcy Gruttadaro, Director for the Center for Workplace Mental Health at the American Psychiatric Association Foundation, in a blog post. “There is a tendency for both employers and the claim administrators to step back and wait, often due to the fear of exacerbating the claimant’s condition and thinking the claimant is too fragile to think about return to work. This ‘hands off’ approach usually leads to lengthy absence/disability durations, higher costs, and in some cases, job loss.”

Gruttadaro said research has shown that working with the employee to get them back to work quickly reduces direct and indirect costs while protecting the claimant’s job and ensuring workplace productivity.

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