A most essential benefit can’t wait

I planned to do a health news roundup for my last post of 2012.

Yet it is difficult to think about choosing a handful of stories. Between the havoc created by hurricane Sandy and the unfathomable violence in Newtown CT, it seems like we have stumbled onto the set of a horror movie these last two months..

It is difficult to wrap my head around the devastation that occurred in places like Long Beach and Staten Island. TV footage only hints at the extent. You don’t feel it until you actually walk among the remains of communities. It’s still awful in some parts of Long Island and the south shores of Queens and Brooklyn, and along the coast of New Jersey. But it is possible to rebuild with enough time and money. That assumes Congress will stop arguing about it and send a check.

It’s nearly impossible to process the events at Sandy Hook elementary. A mall in Oregon. A temple in Wisconsin. A movie theater in Colorado. Young men — and they always seem to be young men – snap. And innocent people die. And the rest of us ask “why”?

Yet there is no real answer to this question. Mental illness, perhaps triggered by a seemingly small incident; suddenly pent up rage is expressed in a form most of us can’t even conceive.

We should not have to wait until 2014 before mental illness becomes an essential benefit under the Affordable Care Act. It’s already essential. However, for another year, it can be a reason for denial of coverage by insurance companies.

We anonymously call child protective services if we think an 8-year-old may be in danger. Who do we call when we suspect that a 20 year old might violently take out his anger on innocent people? It is well past time to think about mental illness as an add-on. It must be perceived as serious health condition, one that deserves the same attention and treatment as diabetes, or high cholesterol.

Unfortunately, there is strong likelihood that another person, somewhere, will act out his rage, probably with a weapon, and more people will pay the ultimate price. What if lack of insurance coverage played a role in this?

Most insurance covers flu shots to prevent onset of the illness. How can there not be parity for mental health?

While I applaud the provisions of the ACA that change this approach, can we afford to wait another year ?

I hate to end the year on a down note, so let’s hope that 2013 brings about more positive outcomes in health care, that consumers become more empowered to manage their health, and that those needing care – for any reason – can afford it, without being denied – because all health, mental, emotional and physical, is essential.

Happy Holidays to all & best wishes for peaceful, prosperous and healthy 2013.

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