President Requires Insurance Coverage for Mental Illness and Addiction

Drug addiction

President Obama has used his mighty law-making pen to require all insurance carriers to provide coverage for mental health treatment and addiction in the same manner as they do physical illnesses.

This is part of a package of regulations designed to stop the mass shootings this country has experienced. The proponents of this action say that it will not result in a large increase in the cost of health care coverage. I do not believe that. I think it will cost a huge amount.

I have unhappy family experience with addiction, and I don’t have much hope that this measure will curb the plague of drug addiction and alcoholism that is warping our society. I’ve seen what happens when people are sentenced to drug treatment by the courts. I’ve also seen what happens when their family persuades them to go to an expensive treatment program.

The drug treatment plan my family member attended because of court order was a scam. The family member was supposed to be in residence 24/7 as part of their treatment, but they came and went as they chose. There was no effort to enforce the rules or kick this person out. The treatment facility was raking in government money and not even enforcing its own rules with people that were sentenced to it by the courts.

I’ve also had unhappy experience with an expensive (very expensive) private treatment program. I went to meetings for family members and did the whole nine yards. The place was full of doctors, police, and others who had been sent there in order to keep their professional standing. They were not sorry. About anything.

The viewpoint expressed in meetings was that their families, friends and colleagues were … I can’t repeat the language … for being angry with them for the things they’d done in their addictions. These were privileged people, doing the doh-si-doh required for them to keep their license.

My family member went through the program and then got out and went right back to using.

On the other hand, I have seen people stop using and rebuild their lives and reclaim their souls just by going to the entirely free and voluntary Alcoholics Anonymous program.

No drug treatment program will help people who don’t want to be helped, and if someone really wants to stop, the expensive programs aren’t necessary. Also, the ones I’ve seen are overpriced — massively overpriced — and catering to their clientele more than they are treating them. Many of them are just raking in government money and processing people with no real concern about treating them.

I am concerned that the mental health care that will come about as a result of this ruling will be somewhat the same.

We have taken the idea of “treatment” as a panacea for ghastly behavior to the max. I have read that some of the young men who have killed large numbers of people in these mass murders were mentally ill. However, most of them were also from privileged well-to-do families with access to any care they needed. In fact, at least one of them that I’ve read about was under treatment at the time he committed the murders.

I am not opposed to mental health care for mentally ill people. In fact, I support it.

But I think that using this treatment as a catch-all cure for what are much deeper social ills will not and can not work. I think it is dodging the real issues, which are complex and require more of us as a society than just paying for some “expert” to fix people for us. I also think that simply handing over the money without stringent requirements about the quality of care is a mistake.

Drug addiction treatment, in particular, is, at least in my experience, over-priced and under-effective unless the person receiving the treatment truly wants to change and is motivated to endure what it takes to do that. In that case, free programs such as Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous are effective. In fact, from what I’ve seen, Alcoholics Anonymous is actually far more effective and beneficial than expensive treatment programs.

I realize that desperate family members who drain their life savings to send their loved ones to treatment for their addictions are doing it because the person they love will not go to meetings, do the work and endure the suffering required to heal from their addiction. They are losing someone they love and they are willing to do anything — including destroy themselves financially — to save them.

I have felt the same desperation and grieved the same grief over someone I love who is caught in the living death of addiction.

However, I speak from experience with the tragedy of addiction when I say that it’s up to the addicted person to want to change. If they ever reach the point that they are motivated to get help because they want to change for themselves, then AA or AN will do a fine job of helping them heal. Otherwise, bankrupting yourself will not help them.

By the same token, forcing insurance companies to open their coffers to pay for these outrageously expensive drug treatment programs will not help people who do not want to change, either. Statements that this will not raise the cost of health care are nonsense. These programs are massively expensive.

Since health insurance is now on the government dole, it will almost certainly end up contributing to our burgeoning national debt.

I wish there was a magic cure for these problems, but there isn’t.

From the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Friday will complete a generation-long effort to require insurers to cover care for mental health and addiction just like physical illnesses when it issues long-awaited regulations defining parity in benefits and treatment.

The rules, which will apply to almost all forms of insurance, will have far-reaching consequences for many Americans. In the White House, the regulations are also seen as critical to President Obama’s program for curbing gun violence by addressing an issue on which there is bipartisan agreement: Making treatment more available to those with mental illness could reduce killings, including mass murders.

In issuing the regulations, senior officials said, the administration will have acted on all 23 executive actions that the president and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. announced early this year to reduce gun crimes after the Newtown, Conn., school massacre. In planning those actions, the administration anticipated that gun control legislation would fail in Congress as pressure from the gun lobby proved longer-lasting than the national trauma over the killings of first graders and their caretakers last Dec. 14.

“We feel actually like we’ve made a lot of progress on mental health as a result in this year, and this is kind of the big one,” said a senior administration official, one of several who described the outlines of the regulations that Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, will announce at a mental health conference on Friday in Atlanta with the former first lady Rosalynn Carter.

The Gate of Hell: Prescription Drug Addiction

Through me you go to the grief wracked city;

Through me you go to everlasting pain;

Through me you go to pass among lost souls.

Dante Alighieri, Inferno: The Gate of Hell

 Timothy Dalrymple, who blogs at Philosophical Fragments, wrote a  compelling account of prescription drug addiction in a post titled (oddly enough) Overcoming Sex Addiction.

Tim says that “it would be hypocritical” for him to talk about addiction of any sort without also discussing his own addiction to prescription drugs. At that point, he veers away from the subject of sex addiction into a retelling of his own spiral into physical addiction to painkilling drugs as a result of the lifelong pain he must endure because of a broken neck.

I have family members who are drug addicts. I can sympathize easily with someone who is dealing with prescription drug addiction (or any other drug addiction) from the outside. I know what it’s like to watch someone you love destroy themselves with drugs and be helpless to stop them. I also know how it feels to watch the destruction of their once delightful personalities under the influence of drugs.

I can sympathize with family and friends of drug addicts. The drug addicts themselves, not so much.

Tim’s honest account of how the prospect of a lifetime of pain demoralizes while the steady infusion of addicting drugs into a person’s body and life grows an addiction that won’t be assuaged gave me a new and necessary perspective on my own family members who have lost the battle with addiction to prescription drugs. I sometimes almost forget that a lot of physical pain fueled the original drug-taking that led to the addiction. All I see is the ruined personality, the vacant shell of the individual I once talked to, laughed with and turned to for companionship.

Grief for the loss of the person you knew and loved is part of life for those who must live with the addicted living dead. It is even more acute when the drug addiction is a response to emotional rather than physical pain.

I think Tim’s article is well worth reading for anyone who loves someone who suffers from addiction. In truth, the addicted person is just the center of an ever-expanding circle of suffering that ripples out to parents, siblings, children, friends, and on into future generations.

I admire Timothy Dalrymple. Not many people have the grit to face their own addictions and do something about them. I respect the courage it took to write about it so honestly in this post. I encourage you to read it.

Timothy Dalrymple’s post says in part:

… It was not happenstance that I decided to teach a class on sin and addiction.  I became intensely interested in the topic for a very specific reason.

I have taken pain medications more or less constantly ever since I broke my neck in 1996.  Every day, I leave my house with a packet of pills in my pocket.  For the last six years, I’ve been on a medication that relieves my pain without causing any euphoria or craving — but that was not always the case.

To be clear, my medications have always been prescribed and supervised by a physician.  But that does not mean — does not mean at all — that I have not been addicted.  One of my doctors, in fact, was very clear with me: if I put you on this medicine for a long time, you will become addicted.  There’s no question about it.  We will just hope to control the addiction.

As though addictions can be controlled.  But what choice did I have?  If I did not take the pain medications, then I was in pain constantly.  Every hour of every day.  Around my two fused vertebrae, I have nerve damage, bulging discs, pinched nerves, traumatic arthritis.  What some people don’t appreciate about chronic pain is that the physical pain is one thing, but the psychological burden can be almost unbearable.  It’s a terrible thing to stare down the barrel of the rest of your life and know that it will rifled through with agony to the end.

So I went from Vicodin and Percocet to Methadone and Oxycontin.  I would be on a certain medicine for a while, my body would build a tolerance, I would need to raise the dosage, eventually the side effects would grow too significant, and we would switch to another medicine.  And the most dangerous of the drugs I utilized was, without a doubt, Oxycontin.

I took Oxycontin — and usually felt a “high” — three times a day, for years.  While I never ground and injected or snorted it, I learned that there were other ways to get it into your system more quickly, or ways to experience its effects more profoundly. (Read more here.)


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