While other states are focusing their discussions post-Sandy Hook on gun control — including Minnesota with hearings next week — going virtually unnoticed by major headlines of news media is how Connecticut is handling the issue, and the advancement by U.S. Sen. Al Franken on mental health care improvements.
In the state where the deadly rampage took place, Connecticut is considering sweeping changes to its mental health system including forcing private insurers to offer more mental health coverage — long overdue from the federal government — and screening every school child for emotional or psychological problems.
Franken also took last week to discuss his effort to increase students’ access to mental health care in our nation’s schools and pointing out that Minnesota is 48th in the country in ratio of students to mental health counselors, 780 to one.
Jennifer Maksel, the mother of a 7-year-old Sandy Hook survivor, testified in Connecticut that it was difficult getting local schools and the hospital to treat her 12-year-old son who had Asperger’s Syndrome, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder and oppositional defiant disorder. “I have been fighting to get him services for years,” Ms. Maksel said. “He is 12 years old. But if I don’t get him social skills to prepare him (for) when (he) is 18, what am I going to do?”
And even if you have insurance, it’s still difficult. Patricia Rehmer, Connecticut’s commissioner of Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, testified that “The bigger gaps, frankly, are for those individuals with private insurance. “I do know that while individuals with private insurance have limited access to inpatient services, outpatient services and medications, the additional services that are critical to an individual’s recovery are oftentimes not covered by health-insurance policies.”
This despite the heavy lifting by the late Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone, who pushed a federal law to force insurance companies to offer mental-health coverage services comparable with the coverage they provide for medical services. These mental-health parity laws aren’t adequately enforced because for more than four years the federal government has yet to define the parameters.