The Gazette: Fighting for mental health treatment equality

Posted 10/9/2018

By: Andrew Romanoff

A teenager trapped by depression. A daughter addicted to heroin. A son lost to suicide.

More than a million Coloradans face a mental health or substance use disorder, but only half get the care they need.

The consequences can be catastrophic: crowded emergency rooms and prison cells, increased unemployment and homelessness, and one of the highest suicide rates in the nation.

This crisis is not simply statistical — it’s profoundly personal:

• Dani was 16 when she was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Her parents tried and failed to get treatment for her in Colorado. They finally found a facility in Wisconsin and another in Utah — and then had to fight their insurance company to pay for her stay.

• Alicia spent eight months in treatment for heroin addiction. Her parents spent even more time battling three insurers to cover her care. Alicia is now two years sober. Her parents are $85,000 in debt.

• Zac suffered from depression and psychosis. He was denied coverage for inpatient care at a residential facility. By the time his insurance company reversed its decision and agreed to pay for his treatment, Zac had died by suicide. He was 14 years old.

Why would we condemn anyone to a life like this, or to an early grave? How do we mend Colorado’s mental health?

We can start by enforcing the law.

Last week marked the 10th anniversary of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, a federal law that requires equal coverage for mental and physical care.

Colorado’s own mental health parity law is even older; it was enacted in 1997.

But these laws, like any, are effective only if they’re enforced. The evidence suggests that’s not happening.

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