WAMU 88.5 : Morning Edition

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Four Years Later, Federal Mental Health Law Goes Unimplemented

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While the focus in health care this week is on tomorrow's Supreme Court ruling on President Obama's Affordable Care Act, mental health advocates are pushing the federal government to fully implement health care changes signed into law four years ago by former president George W. Bush.

The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act prevents insurers from placing more restrictive limits on mental health and substance abuse benefits than those for medical or surgical benefits. But the law has not been fully implemented, and many who suffer from these afflictions say because of that, insurers are trying to limit their coverage. 

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Rep. Jim Moran (R-Va.) argue insurers are trying to take advantage of customers by lowering coverage because the law isn't in full effect. Both spoke at a meeting in Montgomery County Tuesday where several people who suffer from mental health issues shared their experiences. 

Ann Price has been a flight attendant for 40 years and the rigors of her job led her to being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, she told those gathered for the meeting. 

"I was based in London with Pan-American World Airways in December 1988 when 14 of my friends were blown out of the sky over Lockerbie, Scotland," Price said. "On the morning of September 11, I was working on an airplane headed for New York when the captain told us to go back and lock for potential hijackers in each cabin." 

Price's PTSD led to alcoholism, but through treatment and weekly psychotherapy, she's been clean and sober for 21 years. But this year, her insurance company started questioning whether Price needed her weekly sessions with a therapist. 

"He labeled my treatment maintenance, and her response was, considering I serve alcohol on the job, deal with volatile people, and that it's a high stress job, that yes, it is maintenance," Price said. "Staying sober is the goal of my treatment."

She believed it was a violation of the law, and appealed. She won and was allowed to keep her benefits at the previous level, but it was a costly process and Price fears there are many that do not have the financial ability to do the same. 

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