Mental Health Parity for Insurance

Apparently, the administration has issued rules requiring parity for mental health treatment with other illnesses.  They'll take effect July 1st.  If you want to know why health insurance costs keep marching upward seemingly uncontrolled, this is why:  mandating new benefits is always popular, and the government doesn't have to pay for them.

I am very sympathetic to the plight of the mentally ill.  Unfortunately, most of the people who will tap the benefits are not severely ill people who need intensive care; they're people who are unhappy.  Unhappiness is not a condition for which psychotherapy, or antidepressants, have been shown to be very effective.  (Severe clinical depression, yes.  But contrary to the belief of people who felt awfully down the time their boyfriend left them, these two conditions are not the same thing.)  Since the moderately unhappy and dissatisfied are much more prevalent than those with serious disorders, that's most of what we'll be paying for:  someone to listen to complaints. That's what Senators are supposed to be for.

On a more serious note, I feel like we could have achieved the laudable goal of ensuring that serious mental illnesses are not left untreated (at least, in cases where the patient wants to get treatment), without guaranteeing cheaper psychotherapy for America's ennui-laden affluent classes.  Of course, then we'd have to recognize the fact htat this stuff has to be paid for, rather than pretending that benefits can somehow be magically generated for free with just a wave of the regulatory pen.

Update:  Let me point out something which I thought was obvious--the private insurance market is not where you necessarily get insurance if you are severely mentally ill.  Really severe mental illness, particularly schizophrenia, interferes with "normal life activities" like working or dating, and onset is typically in young adulthood.  The more likely you are to have the social or financial resources with which to obtain private insurance, the less likely you are to have the kind of severe mental illness we're worrying about.

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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