New S-CHIP law mandates mental health parity

    Programs providing coverage under the State Children’s Health Insurance Program will now have to cover mental health services – but there is concern that the law will not result in better mental health treatment for children.

    New legislation signed by president Obama expands the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. It will now cover 10 million children from low-income families, and it also mandates mental-health parity.

    Under the new legislation, providers have to offer the same access to treatment for disorders like autism and depression as they do for physical ailments.

    But a law requiring access to treatment doesn’t necessarily mean that that treatment will be available.

    Psychologist David Palmiter counsels families on getting mental health treatment for their children. He says often, mental health problems go undetected:

    Palmiter: “for instance, some recent research suggests that many pediatricians don’t screen for mental health issues in their practices. There is some speculation as to why – some of it may be just a sense that geez, if I do find this kid has mental health problems I don’t know what to do next, there’s a problem in my community linking up with care”

    Philadelphia pediatrician Dr. Eric Berger says less than half of young American patients are screened for developmental and mental health problems, a process that could be facilitated with online surveys filled out by parents:

    Berger: “these are short questionnaires that raise red flags that need to be addressed that would lead the pediatrician in order to make appropriate referrals if those services are available”

    Berger says getting doctors to look for mental health issues wouldn’t solve the problem on its own.

    Berger: “once we identify it, what do we do with it? Because particularly in mental health services there is a really crisis, there are not enough providers, there are particularly not enough psychiatrists for children out there”

    Berger says early intervention is key in addressing behavioral and developmental issues. He is working on installing a new online system in his practice that will make mental health screenings more efficient.

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    Related:
    Expanding health care for children

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