Rant-o-Rama Articles

Why pinching pennies on mental health care won’t work

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

My disenchantment with politics has hit a new low. I didn’t think that was possible until I began looking at Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s 2015 budget proposal line-by-line.

I was writing another story on child welfare programs and figured while I was looking at the budget, I might as well shutterstock_133736621look at our governor’s budget proposal for mental health programs. Going straight to the bottom line, I see the governor is proposing spending $2.1 million more than the current fiscal year on adult mental health programs. Good news, right?

Wrong.

I took a gander at funding for strategic priorities:

  • Indigent psychiatric medication program: $0 down from $1.5 million this year.
  • Maintain funding for adult community mental health services: $4 million, down from $10.2 million..
  • Maintain funding for Bay County Assertive Community Treatment Team: $0 down from $1.2 million.
  • Community mental health programs in 3 counties: $0 down from $1.9 million.

The only strategic priorities that will see an increase in funding under the governor’s budget is mental health transitional beds, $2.5 million compared to $0 this year and $3 million to restore county criminal justice grants, which received no funding this year.

But under the category “Provide Effective and Enhanced Prevention Services,” which support 7 community crisis stabilization units and other local mental health care programs – the governor is cutting funding for all seven programs.

The governor’s proposed budget would have ticked me off three years ago – at the height of the recession – but it infuriates me now because Florida has a $1.2 billion budget surplus. So a $2.1 million increase for adult mental health care programs amounts to chump change. I mean, really?

The governor claims the three main parts of his “It’s Your Money Tax Cut Budget” are: 1) Creating Jobs for the Next Generation; 2) Investing in Education; and 3) Strengthening Florida Families. If that is true, investing in the state’s mental health care system should be among your top priorities.

If you want to attract business to Florida, you need a healthy and attractive environment. Homelessness and those pesky homeless people pushing grocery carts along the sidewalk or lining the intersections …


Sen. Creigh Deeds: The high cost of not treating mental illness

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

I couldn’t hear what the man on 60 Minutes was saying because I was busy making dinner but I saw the scar across his face and figured he was a veteran or had been in a car crash.

creigh

Virginia State Sen. Creigh Deeds

I record 60 Minutes every week so I figured I would watch it later. I did and then I realized this was Virginia state Sen. Creigh Deeds. I vaguely remembered reading a few news stories about some senator’s son attacking his father and then killing himself but there was no follow up – just that the senator had pulled through.

I did not know that Deeds’ son, Gus, 24, had bipolar disorder and that he and his father had been in the emergency room trying to get treatment for Gus the day before the attack. Or that there were no beds available in the psych unit and so Gus went home – unlike other kids who can linger for days in emergency rooms waiting for a psych bed to open up.

The story got more horrific as it went along. Deeds gave us the unimaginable details of the attack and how he looked at his son as he sliced at him with a knife and told him how much he loved him. And then there were interviews with other parents who had been in similar situations, with children much younger than Gus – discharged from emergency rooms because there were no beds for psych patients.

All I could think while watching was… What The F-word is wrong with us! Sandy Hook wasn’t enough? Aurora wasn’t enough? Virginia Tech wasn’t enought? What astounds and infuriates me is that we – or at least I – know who is to blame.


Whitney Had No Demons

Saturday, February 18th, 2012

Would you like to know how many times “Whitney Houston” and “demons” appear together in a Google search?

27,100,000.

That’s a lot of demons for a woman who had none. Whitney Houston was mentally ill. She had the disease of addiction. She was not possessed. She was very, very sick. I afford her the same compassion and sympathy as I would someone who is slowly dying from cancer or some other progressive, fatal illness.

Addicts and alcoholics – like me – do not have demons. We have illnesses.

To the folks in Salem in the 1600′s we probably seemed possessed because, let’s be honest, some of us do some pretty wicked things when we are under the influence – especially those of us, like me, who are dual-diagnosed and who – like me – have other mental illnesses, such as bipolar.

We stigmatize addiction and alcoholism every time we use the word “demons” to describe our illnesses. We take a step backwards in the relentless effort to convince others that these are “real” medical conditions. The American Medical Association has recognized alcoholism as a legitimate illness for decades. Why can’t we?


Rant-o-Rama: Blue Cross’ end run around the mental health parity law

Monday, September 12th, 2011

insurance and mental health

I know it’s only September but I think it’s safe to say that Blue Cross and Blue Shield is the undisputed winner of the 2011 If-At-First-You-Don’t-Succeed  Award.

After losing the decades-old mental health parity battle with the passage of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act in 2008, Blue Cross and Blue Shield has orchestrated a very clever end run around the new law.

Here in Florida, it will work like this: As of Nov. 30, BCBSF will cancel is contracts with mental health care providers and switch to a new managed care vendor – New Directions Behavioral Health of Kansas City, Missouri. Providers – psychologists and mental health counselors – will have to decide if they want to sign a contract with New Directions in order to continue treating their Blue-Cross insured patients.

This may look like nothing more than common-sense corporate housekeeping but it is shaping up to become a devious scheme to deny mentally ill patients the treatment they are legally entitled to under the new parity law.  Here’s the rub: in some cases New Directions is paying counselors 30 percent less than Blue Cross for the same services.

Here’s what puzzles me: How can New Directions claim its reimbursement rates are “usual and customary” when BCBSF was paying mental health providers 30 percent more for the same services? Whose “usual and customary” rates are we supposed to believe? New Directions or BCBSF?

You could argue that New Directions’ “usual and customary” data are more accurate because the company specializes in mental health case management. I might even believe that except for one little problem: Blue Cross and Blue Shield and New Directions are partners.

This seems a little sketchy, doesn’t it? Especially when you consider that BCBSF sent out notification letters earlier this summer and gave providers between 15-30 days to sign on with New Directions. What’s the rush? Connie Galietti, executive director of the Florida Psychological Association, expressed the same concern, along with five other disturbing requirements in the contract, in her Aug. 10 letter to Kevin McCarty, …


Rant-o-Rama: Mental Health Parity for 9/11 Survivors

Sunday, July 3rd, 2011

Where is Patrick Kennedy when we need him?!

Recently, the folks drafting rules for the 9/11 Compensation Fund announced that the $2.8 billion fund created by Congress last year will not cover mental health problems caused by 9/11.

The Special Master notes that as in the Fund’s first iteration, the statute limits eligible injuries to those consisting of ‘‘physical harm.’’ Accordingly, as in the Fund’s first iteration, the statutory language does not permit the Fund to cover individuals with only mental and emotional injuries, even if the mental and emotional injuries are covered by the WTC Health Program.

Apparently, the fund’s newly-appointed special master, Sheila Birnbaum, hasn’t heard about the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA). I understand that the statute governing the 9/11 Compensation fund governs her duties to disburse the money to deserving survivors.

However, couldn’t Birnbaum take a stand and argue that because the brain is a part of the human body – ergo “PHYSICAL” – that “mental and emotional” injuries should be covered – especially since the MHPAEA is now the law of the land? In the spirit of parity don’t you think the government ITSELF should voluntarily commit to mental health parity when it comes to using tax dollars to provide ANY KIND OF HEALTH CARE!


Suicide Prevention: The NRA, AMA and a Question of Guns

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

Once again, in the words of the philosopher Gump, “Stupid is as stupid does.”

Florida lawmakers are considering a bill that would prohibit emergency room doctors, psychiatrists and pediatricians from asking patients  if they own or have access to a gun. Doctors would face stiff fines: $10,000 for the first offense; at least $25,000 for the second offense and up to $100,000 for the third offense.

I’m not making this up. In fact, on Tuesday the Florida Senate’s Criminal Justice Association voted 4-1 in favor of the bill. The initial draft of the bill made it a felony to quiz a patient about gun ownership and included fines of $5 million.


Parity Pitfalls: Got depression? Separate Deductibles are Good For You! Really!

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

In the words of the inimitable Gomer Pyle, “Surprise. Surprise. Surprise.”

A group of three managed behavioral healthcare organizations, who suspiciously call themselves the “Coalition for Parity,” have sued the feds, claiming they were “denied their right to participate in the rule-making process” for implementation the Wellstone-Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act.

Who didn’t see THIS coming?

The Coalition says the “interim final rule” drafted by the feds is so “vague,” “ill-informed,” “ill considered,” “fatally ambiguous,” “unrealistic,” “severely flawed,” “carelessly drafted” and “boundless” that the rule “does not advance the cause of mental health parity; but rather impedes it.”

According to court papers filed on April Fools Day (Seriously, they filed this on April 1) the Coalition for Parity says it “strongly supports mental health parity.” In fact,  the Coalition is so concerned about parity that it believes separate deductibles are the best way to ensure that people like me, with mental illnesses, get the care we need – especially low-paid workers, addicts and alcoholics.


Got depression? These thieves may have the cure

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

According to the Associated Press, “thieves cut a hole in the roof of warehouse, rappelled inside and scored one of the biggest hauls of its kind …” About $75 million worth of antidepressants and other drugs.

What?

I have been a reporter for a long time and I have covered a lot of heists, but this is really, really weird. It gets even weirder: “The pills — stolen from Eli Lilly & Co. in quantities big enough to fill a tractor trailer — are believed to be destined for the black market, perhaps overseas.”

What!

It appears the thieves scaled the brick walls of the warehouse in Enfield, Connecticut, during a rainstorm before daybreak on Sunday. They lowered themselves to the floor, disabled the alarms and loaded up on Prozac, Cymbalta and Zyprexa. (I am having a vision of George Clooney, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt and Bernie Mac studying the blueprints of a drug warehouse in quaint, little, historic Enfield — also the U.S. headquarter of toy maker Lego and a major distribution center for Hallmark Cards. I’m not making this up.)


Depression, bipolar and trying to stay sober for richer or poorer

Monday, March 1st, 2010

I think I would like to go to rehab.

I didn’t go to rehab when I got sober in 1998. I went to the local AA clubhouse, which was a former Shriner’s clubhouse with a spiffy wood bar (promptly converted to a coffee shop) and a meeting room that seemed large  enough to drive around in little cars. I love my AA clubhouse and have had some wonderful times there. It had a major overhaul a couple of years ago and now features a nice pool table, a flat, large screen television above a fireplace, pin ball machines, a public access computer, and a lovely little cafe. Did I mention the coffee? We have cappuccino, too.

Still, I think it might be kind of nice to go to rehab. I don’t need it but I hear other recovering alcoholics talk about their rehabs like they’re sororities or  spas and I think I could use 30 days to “work on myself” … and my tan. I got the idea while trying to plan a vacation. I wanted to find a resort or spa for recovered alcoholics. A place where we could go and continue and expand our programs with lectures and seminars and yoga and massages and pedicures and really great healthy food. Meetings morning, noon and night. Movies. Tennis. Group meditations and long walks on the beach. Wouldn’t that be great?


Am I treating my depression with expensive Tic Tacs?

Saturday, February 6th, 2010

“Expensive Tic Tacs”

That phrase keeps rolling around in my head…

“Expensive Tic Tacs”

That’s what saved my life?

“Expensive Tic Tacs”

I just finished reading the controversial cover story – ANTIDEPRESSANTS DON’T WORK – in Newsweek‘s Feb. 10 edition. I don’t know where to start. How about

IS THERE AN EDITOR IN THE HOUSE????!!!!


Hoping for a Happy Ending
Check out Christine's book!
Hope for a Happy Ending: A Journalist's
Story of Depression, Bipolar and Alcoholism
Christine Stapleton

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