Mental illness is a health problem, too

Over the years I have heard hundreds of heart-wrenching stories about individuals and families who suffer as a result of health insurers failing to provide the same coverage for mental illnesses as they do for physical ailments.

One Wisconsin woman shared with me an especially poignant story that illustrates the imbalance of the current system.

In the same year, this woman’€™s husband and daughter both required major medical care because of life-threatening conditions. One had a disease of the kidneys and one suffered from severe clinical depression.

Both patients required emergency visits and extended treatment. Both patients were compliant and followed their doctor’€™s treatment instructions. Both patients were covered under the same family policy.

But the insurance covered twice as much of the costs associated with the kidney disease as it did for the severe depression, simply because depression is a mental illness.

So while her husband underwent multiple treatments for his kidney disease, her daughter learned her insurance would stop paying for her psychiatric appointments.

Last month, a bipartisan majority of the House voted to change this by passing landmark legislation that will end this discrimination. The Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act, of which I am an original cosponsor, prohibits group health plans from imposing treatment or financial limitations in mental health benefits.

As you know, I ardently believe all Americans deserve access to affordable, comprehensive health care. And I believe this care should include both mental and physical health. Mental illnesses are real and treatable health problems’€”just like hypertension, cancer and heart disease; yet millions of hardworking men and women still find that their health plans place strict limits on coverage for mental health benefits.

It is time for us to end this irrational discrimination.  

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