NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

January 22, 2013

Time for parity in mental health funding

To the editor:

Kudos to The Daily News for its editorial on the issue of mental health care in America (“Newtown has spurred useful debate on mental health,” Jan. 11).

As the CEO of a multi-program mental health and addiction treatment agency — with services in Rowley and Amesbury — I can attest to the fact this is indeed a “long-neglected health concern.”

In Massachusetts, an estimated 185,000 people have severe mental health issues, and approximately 50 percent of those eligible are on waiting lists for publicly funded services.

There are three primary reasons for this gap between need and access. Two of them are about money.

The mental health parity laws promise equal access to mental health treatment and coverage for any physical condition. But our daily reality represents anything but parity. Why? Because mental health services are not funded at the same level as physical health issues. As providers, our reimbursement rates barely cover costs.

Here’s the third daily reality: In the grocery line, we commiserate about our winter sniffles, but we hesitate to reach out for support around our mental well-being. In other words, we fear the conversation and we stigmatize our neighbors with mental illness.

Here’s hoping that 2013 will be the year when real mental health parity becomes a reality in Massachusetts and America.

KEVIN P. NORTON

President and CEO

Lahey Health Behavioral Services

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