Better, not best.

For many people, living with diabetes means also living with depression and other mental health issues. That’s why this story in the New York Times this weekend caught my eye. It doesn’t have to do with diabetes and depression, but rather with what mental health care looks like today and what it will look like later in the year. Or next year. Or maybe later. What I read in the story is a prime example of one of my biggest frustrations with medical care of any kind. The two hallmarks of managed care in America: Confusion and Delay.

The story describes improvements (hopefully) in access to care for addiction and mental health for patients. Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, mental health care must be included in all insurance plans. No more leaving it out. And under recent updates to a separate law, the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, plans are not allowed to charge more for co-pays or deductibles for mental health coverage than they charge for physical care. In addition, insurance plans will be required to show consistency when determining whether coverage for physical or mental care is medically necessary. They won’t be allowed to make getting prior approval for in-patient mental health treatment more difficult than the approval needed for admission to an acute care hospital. I like the idea of consistency in the law, and the recognition that care for mental hygiene should be considered on an equal footing with physical care.

What I don’t like is this: According to the NY Times story,

“The new parity rules apply to most health plans and are effective beginning July 1, although many plans will not have to comply until January of next year.”

The rules apply to most plans? What plans? Why not all plans? The piece mentions that some insurers have implemented the equity requirements into their plans already. For those who haven’t, why wait until July 1? What’s the deal with exempting some plans from compliance with the law until next year?

I’ve seen now several provisions of the PPACA and other laws over the last few years get delayed. It seems like it’s almost a given that the most contentious parts of these legislative efforts will always be delayed for one reason or another. Some of the reasoning for those decisions have to do with timing, and how fast insurers can react to change. I get that. But if we’re going to concede that point, we must also recognize that part of the reason for staggering compliance with the equity rules goes back to those ideas of Confusion and Delay. The more confusing insurers make things, and the more they delay, in their thinking, the more money they’ll save. Even when it’s been proven that early access to care of any kind almost always results in better outcomes, helps avoid complications in many cases, and often results in cost savings too.

So, I would ask of insurers: What are you afraid of? If someone needs coverage so they can see their psychiatrist or therapist, or to check into a treatment center for depression today, they need that coverage. Today. At some point, you will be covering that in tune with how you cover a broken arm anyway. Do you want to take a chance that someone could be irreperably harmed by denial of coverage, or by the constraints of cost? Are you okay with, can you visualize, someone being lost just so you can keep your plan the way it is for another six or eleven months? I can’t. I couldn’t live with myself knowing that.

So, insurer, if you can somehow turn off that fear, whatever it is, residing in your backbone somewhere, or if you can ignore it, you can begin the process of going from a bottleneck to being a conduit leading to positive outcomes, for people who are unquestionably worth it.

Stepping off of my soapbox now… How do you feel about this?

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