Mental health parity — treating mental and physical illnesses with equal seriousness, concern, and coverage — has been the law of the land for decades. But changing laws is easy; changing actual clinical practice and the health care system that supports it is far more difficult. This week the Massachusetts Senate is scheduled to vote on a package of legislation aimed at bringing actual practice into the 21st century .
“Our system is broken,” said Senator Cindy Friedman, cochair of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing. “Mental health has long been treated as the stepchild of the health care system.”
But breaking that pattern won’t be easy. Friedman cites the problem of children with acute mental illness who may be “boarded” in an emergency room for weeks. But that problem won’t be solved by having a psychiatrist on call or an insurance company that won’t balk at paying the bill without prior authorization.