SPRY Foundation - Setting Priorities for Retirement Years
Failure of Medicare to Adequately Cover Mental Health
Often Fatal

New Policy Paper Underscores Carter's Remarks on Need to Treat
Mental Illness On Par With Physical Illness

Washington, D.C. - A new policy paper released today shows that Medicare fails to provide seniors with needed access to mental health care professionals, often with disastrous and sometimes fatal consequences. The paper underscores comments made by former First Lady Rosalynn Carter this week in Washington, D.C. on the importance of looking at mental and physical illness as one in the same.

"Many seniors go undiagnosed - even though individuals over the age of 65 have the highest suicide rate of any age group," according to Martha McSteen, the President of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, one of three groups sponsoring the policy paper.

According to the paper, more than half of seniors who commit suicide had a visit with a physician in the month prior, the policy paper notes. "Today, there are approximately half a million seniors with mental health needs," Ms. McSteen said.

Much of the heartbreak that families suffer is unnecessary. "New breakthroughs in pharmacology and new methods of detecting and diagnosing mental illnesses means that many suicides are preventable," according to Dr. Russell Morgan, President of the SPRY Foundation, the research and education arm of the National Committee.

Part of the problem is the package of Medicare benefits, Ms. McSteen said. Currently, Medicare Part B outpatient insurance requires seniors to pay half of the cost of most outpatient mental health care, but only 20 percent of the cost of other medical conditions. Medicare also imposes a 190-day lifetime limit for care in a psychiatric hospital, although there is no limit for care in a general hospital.

The new policy paper comes as House and Senate conferees remain deadlocked over a provision in appropriations bill for Departments of Labor and Health & Human Services that would bar health plans from treating mental health differently from other medical benefits. Congress is also considering new legislation to expand Medicare to cover additional qualified mental health providers and outpatient prescription drugs, including psychotropic drugs used in the treatment of mental illness.

The policy paper released today is based on findings presented at congressional forum on the mental health needs of seniors. For the next sixty days, you can also hear all or part of the forum by going to our web site or clicking on the following URL: http://www.fednet.net/ram/ncpssm/ncpssm072401.ram.

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.


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



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