Saturday, June 25, 2005

Tom Cruise attacks psychiatry; Patrick Kennedy fires back. At our mental health panel Friday at the Progressive Policy Institute, Rep. Patrick Kennedy attacked Tom Cruise for ridiculing the notion of mental illness as a biological illness. "Let me take Tom Cruise to the National Institute of Mental Health sometime," Rep. Kennedy said. DRUDGE REPORT FLASH 2005� A late-night comedian, Craig Ferguson, also asked who are you going to believe (or words to this effect): "A doctor who was trained for ten years -- or a man who became famous jumping around in his underwear."
Here's the UPI dispatch on the forum (which overlooked the Kennedy-bashes-Cruise soundbites):

HEADLINE: PPI: Legislate parity for mental health
BODY:Congress should require insurers to treat mental healthcare the same as other medical coverage in the United States, according to a report released Friday by the Progressive Policy Institute.Art Levine, a PPI fellow and author of the report, wrote:

"The best-known reform goal, instituting parity for mental healthcare with other medical coverage, has been supported in the platforms of both political parties. But even with a majority of legislators in both houses of Congress endorsing the concept, it has yet to be carried out under federal law."

"Mental and physical health are intertwined, and we need to stop treating them as separate entities," said Cynthia Folcarelli, executive vice president of the consumer advocacy organization National Mental Health Association. The PPI -- which bills itself as an alternative to the traditional Democratic and Republican perspectives -- proposed Parity-Plus, which would require health-insurance companies to provide equal coverage for mental health. It also recommended improving the quality of mental healthcare by making healthcare providers accountable for results; removing barriers to the use of evidence-based practices; ensuring funding follows the consumer, not the agency; providing mental-health screening to protect children; and moving people with mental illnesses into employment while retaining their medical benefits.

During the forum, at which five policy leaders discussed the report, Levine said he became interested in mental-health policy through his work as an investigative journalist in Florida. "As a journalist, I've seen the best and the worst of the mental-health system," Levine said. "The worst can be seen every day on the third floor of the Miami-Dade County Jail."There, Levine said, he saw inmates manacled to rusting metal beds and screaming in gibberish.

In his report, Levine wrote there are five times as many mentally ill people in jails and prisons than in all state hospitals combined.Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., described the Parity-Plus proposal as laudable and ambitious, although he said he didn't share some of its means."First we have to understand that stigma is the defining factor in this issue," Kennedy said. "These stereotypes trump common sense, science and facts." Levine concurred that misconceptions about mental illness can inhibit access to mental healthcare."Families told me that when they would go for help, they would be blamed," Levine said.

Kennedy said the healthcare system currently views mental healthcare as "something between cosmetic surgery and physical health," while depression causes $31 billion in lost productivity every year, and the suicide rate is double the homicide rate.

Folcarelli said stigma against mental illness is displayed by insurers paying less for mental healthcare than for other types of care, even though research has shown treatment for many mental illnesses to be effective. "If quality were the issue, we would have parity," she said.

Speakers at the forum also discussed how proposed cuts to the Medicaid program -- $10 billion to $14 billion as a way to trim the federal budget -- could hurt mental health."We believe Medicaid needs to be fixed before any cuts are made," Levine said.

"At the state level, we see enormous cutbacks in the Medicaid system that are really hurting people with severe and persistent mental illness," said Andrew Sperling, director of legislative affairs for the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. For example, a $6 monthly premium was applied to newly expanded Medicaid coverage in Oregon, and more than one-half of the people with mental illnesses who were supposed to benefit from the expanded coverage lost it because they had no income, the PPI report said.

"The Medicaid program, with all its flaws, is the most extensive program for mental health," Folcarelli said. "We need to protect that program from losing coverage, from some very, very tragic consequences."

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