Today’s ruling on what has come to be known as “Obamacare” is extremely good news for those of us with mental illnesses. Discrimination against people with preexisting conditions, whether it is bipolar disorder or cancer, is wrong. Always has been. Always will be.
Insurance companies should be ashamed of themselves for perpetrating this bigotry that has ruined the lives – actually taken the lives – of so many people.
Regardless of whether you watch Fox News or Rachel Maddow, mental illnesses, among the most stigmatized illnesses in our society, can affect anyone. Rich, poor, old, young, male, female, black, white or Hispanic. Clinical depression has become one of the nation’s costliest illnesses, estimated to cost employers tens of billions of dollars every year workplace disability and lost productivity.
Do you know how much medical insurance you could buy with that kind of money? Do you have any idea how much companies could save in lost productivity and sick days if workers with a history of depression had not been denied coverage because of a preexisting condition?
The collateral damage caused by discrimination against preexisting mental illnesses is devastating. I know of people who have medical insurance but are afraid to seek help because they don’t want a diagnosis of depression or bipolar in their medical records. I know of people whose medical insurance covers mental illness but won’t use it and instead pay cash for their prescriptions and therapy so their insurance company will never know about their mental illness.
I know of doctors who have fudged diagnoses to prevent a patient from having a history of mental illness. I know of a man who has been offered a really good job but won’t take it because he will lose the insurance coverage he now has at a job he can’t stand. All this deception and suffering because of discrimination against those with preexisting mental illnesses.
You would think that illnesses that affect so many without regard to race, income, sexual persuasion or political affiliation wouldn’t be the target of this kind of discrimination. But just look at how long and hard former Rep. Patrick Kennedy had to fight for mental health insurance parity – the law that requires insurance companies to cover mental illnesses as they do other physical illnesses.
And look at how hard the insurance companies are trying to dodge the new parity requirements.
When the ban on discrimination against preexisting conditions goes into effect in 2014, I suspect people with illnesses such as cancer will immediately reap the benefits of being able to choose insurance that provides the best coverage. However, it will take time for people with mental illnesses and their physicians to come out of the closet. Because there is so much fear and stigma around mental illnesses, and so many of us have hidden our mental illnesses for so long, it will take time to use our new rights.
But we will. Believe me, we will.
Gavel photo available from Shutterstock.