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Lawmakers Visit CUMC, Call for Equal Coverage for Mental Illness

Photo: Mark Cap, New York State Psychiatric Institute
The New York State Psychiatric Institute was the venue for lawmakers to call for support for a bill that would require mental illness be covered by health insurance plans in the same way as physical illness. Shown at the March hearing were, from left: Jeffrey Lieberman, Jim Ramstad, Charles Rangel, Lee Goldman, and Patrick Kennedy.
The New York State Psychiatric Institute was the venue for lawmakers to call for support for a bill that would require mental illness be covered by health insurance plans in the same way as physical illness. Shown at the March hearing were, from left: Jeffrey Lieberman, Jim Ramstad, Charles Rangel, Lee Goldman, and Patrick Kennedy.
The New York State Psychiatric Institute recently hosted a Congressional field hearing aimed at raising awareness of the lack of parity in health coverage for mental and addictive disorders.
   Congressman Charles Rangel (D-NY), and his fellow colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives, Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) and Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.) convened the hearing March 16 to solicit testimony on this subject in support of a bill they have introduced, “The Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act,” named for the late Minnesota senator. The bill proposes that mental and addictive disorders – as defined in the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” published by the American Psychiatric Association – be covered by health insurance plans in the same way as physical illnesses.
   This was the second stop on a nationwide tour that Reps. Kennedy and Ramstad have embarked on to drum up nationwide support for the bill. Both men have personal ties to addiction – Patrick Kennedy has publicly discussed his bipolar disorder and addiction to Oxycontin, while Jim Ramstad is a recovering alcoholic.
   Lee Goldman, M.D., executive vice president and dean, opened the discussion by relating psychiatry to his field of expertise, cardiology. “When I was in medical school, we were trained to think that mental illness was self-inflicted, while heart disease was not,” he said. “Today, we know that the reverse is true, that genetics and biology play a huge role in the development of mental illness while lifestyle and behavior strongly influences the risk of heart disease. Things are also changing in psychiatry and people are beginning to understand the role of neurobiology in psychiatric disorders.”
   Jeffrey Lieberman, M.D., chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at P&S and director of the New York State Psychiatric Institute (NYSPI), and Herbert Kleber, M.D., chief, Division of Substance Abuse in the Department of Psychiatry at P&S and the NYSPI, spoke about their research on mental illnesses and addictions and reiterated their support for the bill.
   “We now know that mental health disorders are caused by neurobiological disturbances in the brain,” Dr. Lieberman said. “Suicide is the third highest cause of death and the WHO ranks mental illness as one of the leading causes of disability. We must treat mental illness and welcome and enthusiastically support the efforts of Representatives Kennedy and Ramstad’s efforts to pass this important legislation.”
   The lawmakers urged attendees to call their Congressional representatives to encourage them to support a parity bill. Rep. Kennedy’s father, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, also has introduced a separate parity bill in the Senate.
   “We can’t be silent when it comes to mental health,” Rep. Kennedy said at the hearing. “Too often, we hide behind anonymity, but we’re all citizens of the United States and we should call our legislators to urge them to correct this injustice. Let’s get the word out.”

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