MENTAL HEALTH

Dear Senators, follow US employers' lead and move the Mental Health Reform Act forward

FILE

FILE  (AP)

We must work to solve the growing mental health crisis in this U.S. That’s why the time has come for presidential candidates to concern themselves and for the Senate to push forward a free and clear version of the Mental Health Reform Act of 2016 – one that is not commingled with gun rights amendments that are slowing down its progress.

The country needs the Senate to act now, and legislators need look no further than U.S. employers for leadership and guidance on taking steps to begin addressing this critical issue.

A quick history: since the 1996 passage of the Mental Health Parity Act, U.S. employers have been setting the bar on how to provide Americans coverage for behavioral health, while group and government health programs – including Medicare – have lagged behind. With the 1996 Act and the 2008 Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act that followed, it was mandated that behavioral health and medical health plans have parity in terms of both cost sharing and access.

It’s about time for the Mental Health Reform Act of 2016 which looks to provide similar policy requirements for all plans whether they are individual, group or government plans.

Tangential arguments over gun issues risk fracturing a rare bipartisan effort that would finally bring federal policies in line with those long required of employers. It’s time for the Senate to act – and employers can show them the way.

The need is urgent. Each year, 1 in 5 people in the U.S. experience mental illness, and nearly 60 percent don’t receive mental health services to address their conditions.

Employers are well aware of the costs of this to their people and business: about 217 million days of work are lost annually due to productivity decline related to mental illness and substance use disorders, costing employers an approximate $17 billion each year.

The staggering statistics of loss and harm for mental health patients (illustrated even further by the World Health Organization’s latest report) are a stark message that it is time to act to rebuild our national system of support for people with mental health issues.

To affect real change, the bill should focus on the following core needs:

  • More research and subsequent implementation of evidence-based practices to improve the prevention, diagnosis, treatment of and recovery from mental illness and substance use disorders.
  • Removal of the Medicare lifetime limit of 190 days inpatient care
  • Improvements in the enforcement capability for mental health parity law
  • Help for families who have been prevented by privacy laws from accessing crucial information. The bill’s effort to integrate mental health records with medical records means that mental health parity can extend into social support.

American employers spend $1 trillion annually on health care and hold a tremendous amount of power in solving the mental health crisis for the people on their plans.

They have a vested interest in making this right, and can offer the Senate clear insight into what’s working and what isn’t.

For 155 million people who are on employer-sponsored health plans, access to more integrated programs has been steadily on the rise. While there’s still a need for further improvement, employers have learned a lot about how best to deliver on the best behavioral health care.

Additionally, employers are starting to partner with new behavioral health companies in the booming digital health tech space. Specific solutions around autism, stress management or emotional well-being target early intervention and are helping people avoid complications and escalation.

Another helpful solution has been general health tech programs like telemedicine services, which offer counseling sessions via phone or video.

As the Senate bill moves forward, we urge Senators to bring employers, providers, insurers and health tech innovators to the table in an effort to improve the bill and focus on common ground.

Collectively, we should be learning from U.S. employers’ experiences. If we do, it’ll mean eliminating barriers to mental health care access, establishing best practices, creating integrated solutions and enacting the best reforms across all health plans.

The American people deserve their senators’ best effort to come together and solve this life-threatening matter.

Dr. Rajaie Batniji, chief health officer and co-founder of Collective Health Dr. Batniji is Collective Health’s co-founder and chief health officer. Dr. Batniji oversees Collective Health’s partnerships with healthcare networks and healthcare providers, analytics teams, and Collective Health’s employee health management programs. Collective Health brings together Dr. Batniji’s academic and professional careers as both a physician and as a political economist, and his aspiration to create a better and more efficient health insurance experience.

Dr. Batniji is also Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine, where he previously trained in Internal Medicine. Dr. Batniji received a DPhil in International Relations (Political Economy) from Oxford University, where he was a Marshall Scholar, an MD from UCSF, and BA and MA degrees from Stanford University.