Alyssa Goodin testified before Democratic Policy Committee about mental health coverage reform in Pennsylvania
Democratic Policy Committee talks mental health
UPPER DARBY — Medical professionals and mental health advocates testified Wednesday afternoon before the Democratic Policy Committee asking to bring reform to mental health coverage in the state.
State Rep. Margo Davidson, D-164, of Upper Darby, hosted the hearing in the council chambers of the Upper Darby Municipal Building, joined by policy committee Chairman Mike Sturla, D-96, of Lancaster, and other state leaders to discuss better access and treatment for those with a mental health diagnosis.
“We have to fix this system,” said Davison, “there has to be parity so people have access to deal with their brain disease and brain illness.”
As Davidson reminded committee and audience members that because her son, diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, didn’t fall into one of the insurance company’s three “boxes” — hospitalization, partial hospitalization, and intensive outpatient — she had to fight nine months with her insurance company to allow him to get the level of care he needed when first diagnosed.
“It was a nightmare from start to finish,” Davidson said.
Of those to testify before the committee was Alyssa Goodin, director of policy and advocacy at the Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania, who spoke at length about proper care for those who need it.
“One of the most expansive ways we can increase access to behavioral health services is through the acceptance of federal dollars to expand our current Medicaid program,” Goodin said.
Goodin stated that Medicaid expansion will not only be beneficial to the state’s economy and job growth, but that it’s a “safety net” for those whose insurance doesn’t cover comprehensive behavioral health coverage.
Gov. Tom Corbett has not expanded Medicaid in the state, instead proposing his own alternative called Healthy Pennsylvania, which promotional materials on the state’s website call a “common sense” approach to reforming Medicaid.
Goodin said Corbett’s plan would reduce services.
“The Healthy Pennsylvania plan would reduce our Medicaid benefits to look more like commercial insurance, which has historically provided woefully inadequate behavioral health services,” she said.
A mental health and addiction parity was suggested by Goodin to the committee, which is a federal law mandate not currently enforced by the state that says private insurers must provide a behavioral health benefit that is no more restrictive than those for physical health.
“Successful parity implementation has only happened in a couple of states, and it has happened in states that have directed their insurance departments through state legislature to enforce parity. What we are recommending is statewide legislation that would do that,” said Goodin.
Chris Peters, director of marketing for Ambrosia Treatment Center, gave testimony that mirrored Goodin’s views. Not only has Peters seen firsthand the trouble with insurance coverage and extended stays for those who need treatment, he has been part of the system himself.
“If somebody is bad enough that they require inpatient treatment, you can’t parse out things like occurring mental illnesses and trauma,” said Peters. “You can’t get into doing any serious work with this individual so all you end up doing is stabilizing to the best of your ability, and putting a person back out there who is absolutely not ready to be out there on their own.”
While other diseases are defined by their organs of origins, Dr. Marilyn Benoit, chief medical officer for behavior health care provider Devereux in Philadelphia, said that every thought, feeling, behavior and perception all originates in the brain, and those actions are affected when the brain is sick.
“As a society, we need to focus on the fact that what we call mental illnesses are truly brain diseases,” said Benoit. “Until we acknowledge that fact, we will continue to ignore that we are dealing with potentially serious brain disorders.”
Benoit said the current practice of brief hospital stays and medicinal manipulation makes for a “revolving door” of care.
“(It’s) a process that ultimately increases costs without the patient receiving the quality of care that they should be getting,” she said, adding that without proper assessments, doctors do not know what exactly they’re treating and current practice does not allow practitioners the time to gather information.
To help with reform, Davidson is ready to put forth four bills before the House next month, all of which have a number of co-sponsors already: The first bill will amend the Mental Health Procedures Act to provide assisted outpatient treatment; The second will require insurance companies to provide coverage for assisted outpatient treatment for serious mental illness; The third will amend the Mental Health Procedures Act to notify family members if a person has been involuntarily committed to a mental health facility; and the fourth will require Pennsylvania State Police to operate the Missing Endangered Person advisory system, similar to the Amber Alert System.
“If I do nothing else in this Legislature, I’m going to be a fierce advocate to fix this system ... I need to address it for the welfare of the entire society,” said Davidson.
Davidson is facing Republican Saud Siddiqui in the November election.
Reterieved on 9/2/2014 from http://www.timesherald.com/government-and-politics/20140831/democratic-policy-committee-talks-mental-health
By KEVIN TUSTIN, Special to Digital First Media | POSTED: 08/31/14, 5:22 PM EDT