Mental Health in America: A Report Card

WebMD Live Events Transcript

Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter has spent more than 30 years speaking out for a greater understanding of mental health issues. She joined WebMD Live, along with The Carter Center's mental health program director, Thomas Bornemann, EdD, on May 25, 2005 to discuss the state of mental health care and the efforts to erase the stigma of mental illness in America.

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

MODERATOR:
Welcome to WebMD Live, Mrs. Carter.

CARTER:
Thank you, I'm happy to be with you.

MODERATOR:
And we also would like to welcome Dr. Thomas Bornemann from The Carter Center.

BORNEMANN:
Thank you.

MODERATOR:
How common are mental disorders in America?

CARTER:
Mental disorders are very common in America. One person in four families will have a mental illness over the period of a year, so it's very common.

MODERATOR:
We've received many questions regarding insurance parity. Could you please explain the issue of parity in regards to mental health coverage?

CARTER:
Insurance companies do not cover mental illnesses the way they cover physical illnesses. I don't like to make the distinction because there should be no distinction between mental and other illnesses.

There is legislation before Congress to require insurance companies to cover mental illnesses on a par with other illnesses. We have tried very hard to get that legislation passed over a period of at least four years. I think that if everybody who is reading the answers to these questions would write their Congresspeople -- both Senate and House -- and ask them to vote for parity, it would be the best possible thing that could happen to help people with mental illnesses. We have enough votes to pass in the House and in the Senate, but we have not been able to get it out of committee; the Republican leadership is holding it up. I even called President Bush about it a couple of years ago and he told me that he would help get it passed, but it's still languishing.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Has insurance parity passed yet in any state? The additional co-pays and limits on service for mental health treatment are really hurting our family.

CARTER:
That is a bill that was passed in 1996 -- for national coverage. If companies (businesses), covered mental health services for their employees, they had to cover mental health services at the same rate. But what happened was, the insurance companies made co-payments high and the number of visits to the doctor high, so they got around it. They didn't have to cover, but if they did, they had to offer those things -- but they found ways around it.

Some states require insurance companies to provide mental health coverage, but there's no uniformity at all. Most of the time, what the insurance companies will cover, or what these laws require, is very narrow -- for very serious mental illnesses only. The bill before Congress, the national bill, will cover a broader range of mental illnesses, which is what the mental health field wants.

"There was then, and there still is, a great need for mental health professionals who focus on children's mental health."

MEMBER QUESTION:
Parents often have trouble finding a qualified child psychiatrist, or have to wait many weeks for a first appointment. Although the United States is projected to need at least 33,000 qualified child and adolescent psychiatrists, there are now only about 7,000. The Child Health Care Crisis Relief Act (H.R. 1106/ S. 537) will address this shortage. Are you familiar with this legislation? Do you support it? What can we do to get this polarized and paralyzed Congress to pass it?