Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Medicare Mental Health Copayment Equity Act of 2007

Here is the letter that the Medicare Mental Health Equity Coalition (MMHEC) sent to Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), thanking them for re-introducing this bill, which would end the discriminatory policy of charging copays for outpatient mental health care which are 250% that of copays for non-mental health care. It takes six years to transition under the plan, but it is better than nothing. It is simply amazing that this type of discrimination has remained for as long as it has.

The undersigned organizations of the Medicare Mental Health Equity Coalition, representing patients, health professionals, health care systems and family members, applaud your introduction of the Medicare Mental Health Copayment Equity Act of 2007 (S.1715). Your legislation will eliminate the unfair provision in federal law imposing a 50 percent coinsurance rate for outpatient mental health services under Medicare instead of the usual 20 percent coinsurance for outpatient services. Our coalition supports enactment of legislation like this that will bring payments for mental health care in line with those required for all other Medicare Part B services.

The Medicare program was established to guarantee health care coverage for all older adults and people with disabilities. However, the 50 percent coinsurance for mental health services has proven to be a harmful barrier preventing many Medicare beneficiaries from accessing services they need. Since its enactment in 1965, we have learned that mental health disorders are highly prevalent in the elderly and disabled populations covered by the Medicare program. A landmark report by the Surgeon General on mental illness in 1999 found that 20 percent of the population aged 55 and older experience mental disorders that are not part of what should be considered as normal aging. In addition, a 2006 report by George Washington University found that 59 percent of Medicare beneficiaries with disabilities have a mental illness and 37 percent have a severe mental illness. Tragically, only about half of those experiencing a mental illness receive mental health treatment, due in large part to antiquated and discriminatory health coverage provisions, such as the 50 percent coinsurance rate under Medicare.

There is simply no reason for maintaining a discriminatory barrier to mental health care for America’s seniors and individuals with disabilities, particularly since these populations present a high incidence of mental health concerns.

We greatly appreciate your leadership in addressing this fundamentally unfair Medicare policy for the 44 million Americans that depend on this program.

MMHEC member organizations include the American Association of Geriatric Psychiatry, the American College of Physicians, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the Association for Behavioral Health and Wellness, the Center for Medicare Advocacy, Inc., the Medicare Rights Center, Mental Health America, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the National Association of Social Workers, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare, Psychologists for Long Term Care, Inc., and the Suicide Prevention Action Network USA.

Please write each of your senators, asking them to co-sponsor this bipartisan bill to end this antiquated, discriminatory policy against people who require mental health treatment.