Magazine article Behavioral Healthcare Executive

No Longer Left Out

Magazine article Behavioral Healthcare Executive

No Longer Left Out

Article excerpt

As meaningful as the journey toward comprehensive insurance parity legislation proved to be for the mental health community, it could be argued that the struggle for equity was even more pivotal for addiction treatment providers and advocates. After all, no one ever doubted that any attempt to extend parity beyond the scope of a limited 1996 federal law would cover mental illnesses, but the addiction community routinely would hear terms such as "deal breaker" used to describe addiction's potential inclusion in any legislation.

"I never would have thought after Sen. [Paul] Wellstone told me they were going to have to cut us out of the first parity act in 1996 that I'd now be celebrating arm in arm with mental health advocates," says Carol McDaid, principal ofthe lobbying firm Capitol Decisions, Inc., and the chief parity advocate representing the addiction field.

McDaid, whose clients include two nationally known addiction treatment centers, the American Society of Addiction Medicine, and the marketers of the alcohol dependence medication Vivitrol, receives the most individual credit in the addiction advocacy arena for preserving addiction's place in the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act. But in general, field leaders believe the interests of addiction treatment and recovery were well served - and probably protected for some time - because of participation from a broad coalition that included treatment professionals and individuals in recovery.

"I think this issue transcended the individual interest of either the recovery community or treatment organizations," says Ronald J. Hunsicker, DMin, president and CEO of the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP). "This was a basic civil rights piece of legislation. It is not going to put money in the coffers of treatment organizations - it is just the right thing to do."

Moreover, the cooperative efforts of groups that have not always worked in harmony received a further boost from the openness of two high-profile persons in recovery: U.S. Reps. Patrick J. Kennedy (D-R.I.) and Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.), the House's lead sponsors of parity legislation. Treatment and recovery community leaders say these House members' willingness to share their own stories of addiction and redemption unleashed a flurry of storytelling that humanized the issueofinsurancediscrimination for members of Congress reluctant to impose coverage mandates.

"If I had a dime for every time a member of Congress referred to [Kennedy or Ramstad] as a profile in courage, I'd be wealthy," McDaid says. She refers to their consistent presence in the parity debate as "a walking, talking destigmatization commercial."

Mobilizing average citizens

For a recovery community whose efforts in the public-policy arena often have been held back by a reluctance to go public with personal accounts, a strongpresence in the parity discussions on Capitol H ill was no small feat. The mobilization efforts spearheaded by the group Faces and Voices of Recovery have received much credit for keepingcongressional leaders focused on parity legislation during its many ups and downs.

"We had benefited from treatment, and we wanted to see it happen for others," says Tom Coderre, who was Faces and Voices' national field director for the past two years and became the Rhode Island State Senate's chief of staff this month.

Faces and Voices took an approach heavy on collecting and sharing information about people's treatment experiences. It established an insurance discrimination registry, discovering that some individuals had not even stopped to consider that they had been discriminated against when they were denied access to a treatment program because of their insurance coverage's terms, Coderre explains. He says people tend to blame themselves rather than see that they are not being treated fairly.

More than a dozen hearings conducted by Kennedy and Ramstad across the country in 2007 gave voice to the recovery stories of both average citizens and the two House members themselves. …

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