The need for mental health treatment in California should be an overriding concern for all of us. About 1 in 5 adults in California need mental health support.
A national effort now underway draws attention to the role mental health plays in our overall wellness as individuals and communities. In California, a growing community is working hard to end the stigma surrounding mental health and to increase access to treatment and services.
Delivering treatment hinges on enforcing mental health parity laws that require health insurers to provide services for mental illnesses and addictions that are equivalent to coverage for physical medical care.
In other words, equal co-pays, equal deductibles, no caps on visits and no limits on treatment benefits.
Parity laws, however, are only as effective as the compliance of health insurers. Last year, the state Department of Managed Health Care levied a $4 million fine against Kaiser, accusing the health care provider of limiting access to mental health care. Kaiser is appealing the fine.
In the meantime, I am pushing budget legislation at the state Capitol to reform parity enforcement in California. The existing enforcement system is based on patient-initiated complaints filed with health insurers. I am calling for health insurers instead to reach out and conduct surveys with consumers and providers to measure their compliance.
The state would collect the information and post it on the Internet to help consumers shopping for a new insurance carrier.
By affirming mental health and physical health are equal in importance and response to treatment, we commit a powerful act with a broad benefit to our state.
Just consider the workplace, California’s role in the global economy and how mental wellness affects innovation.
Left misunderstood and untreated, the overall impact of mental or emotional health problems drains our economy and hurts businesses. Untreated mental health challenges cost America at least $105 billion annually in lost productivity.
But we can cut that cost by ensuring a workplace that supports wellness and eliminating prejudice toward people with mental health conditions.
When employees have access to effective mental health treatment, employers see higher productivity, fewer unexcused absences, and both lower turnover and health care costs, according to Wellness Works, an organization that promotes mental health awareness in the workplace.
In the public realm, we can channel our precious police and fire resources for public safety emergencies instead of responding to people in crises caused by untreated mental health problems.
Moreover, Californians have voiced their support for mental health treatment at the ballot box. In 2004, voters passed Proposition 63 to create a fair funding mechanism — independent of the state’s general fund — to expand resources for people with serious mental health needs.
However, much work remains. To build momentum, Mental Health Matters Day — part of May as Mental Health Month — will be observed by hundreds today (May 13th) in Sacramento. The event is sponsored by the California Mental Health Services Authority, which implements prevention and early intervention initiatives to expand resources for mental health, and reduce stigma and discrimination related to mental illness.
Partnering with the authority is Each Mind Matters, an organization bringing Californians together to increase mental health wellness through dialogue and early intervention.
Mental health awareness is a 365-day proposition that requires all of us to act and to recognize when ourselves or others need help.
Let us unite today and renew our efforts to overcome mental illness with understanding, compassion and accessible treatment.
Originally printed in the Sacramento Bee.