SPRY Foundation - Setting Priorities for Retirement Years
Medicare Fails to Meet Mental Health Needs of Elderly
Lack of Parity Between Mental, Physical Health Illness a Barrier

Washington, D.C. - "Mental illness among seniors often goes untreated because public programs like Medicare do not provide access to treatment or specialists," said Martha McSteen, President of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, which co-sponsored a Capitol Hill forum on mental health and aging. "The absence of prescription drug coverage and the low-reimbursement rates for mental illness are the two main stumbling blocks," she noted.

The National Committee sponsored today's forum with the SPRY Foundation and the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry. The forum featured presentations by three leading researchers as well as remarks by Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-MN) and Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI).

Between 5 and 10 percent of seniors suffer from clinical depression, Michael Schoenbaum, an economist with RAND told the forum. "Most leave the doctor's office without being diagnosed and without appropriate treatment, even though it would improve their quality of life and their ability to function independently," he added.

Currently, Medicare only covers 50 percent of the cost of mental health treatment, although it covers 80 percent of the cost of general medical care. The lack of "parity" between coverage for mental health and physical health care needs of seniors is a major problem, said Dr. Russell E. Morgan, Jr., President of the SPRY Foundation, the research and education arm of the National Committee, and one of the co-sponsors of the congressional forum. "There also needs to be a better understanding of strategies that help seniors prevent or reduce adverse mental conditions" said Morgan.

"The inability to get care can be costly, for families of seniors and for society. We see it with suicide rates, which are higher for older adults than for any age group," Dr. Dan Blazer, a professor at the Duke University School of Medicine told the forum. "Depression is the most frequent predictor of suicide in the elderly," he said.

"There are effective clinical practices, using medicines and other interventions that help people with mental disorders. But there are policy and financing barriers to our ability to deliver these treatments," according to Harold Pincus, M.D., a professor at the University of Pittsburgh, a RAND Scientist and member of the SPRY Foundation Board of Trustees.

With millions of members and supporters across America, the National Committee is devoted to the retirement security of all citizens — from the "twenty-something" generation and baby boomers to the nation's 34 million seniors. The National Committee is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, grassroots advocacy and education organization independent of Congress or any government agency. For more information, please visit the National Committee's website at www.ncpssm.org.

Martha McSteen, President
Max Richtman, Executive Vice President
Robert Mahaffey, Executive Director, Communications

For further information contact:
Lee Goldberg
(202) 216-8376

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