Monday, February 6, 2006

Medicare and the mentally ill

Since the prescription program made its debut Jan. 1, some of the estimated 2 million mentally ill Americans covered because they receive both Medicare and Medicaid have gone without the drugs that keep their delusions, paranoia, anxieties or stress in check. Mental health service providers and advocacy organizations nationwide say they worry that scores are at high risk of relapse. Numerous people have been hospitalized.

"The continuation of medications is absolutely critical to keep them in community living," said Steven S. Sharfstein, chief executive of the Shepherd-Pratt Health System in Baltimore and president of the American Psychiatric Association. Last week, the association joined other mental health groups in a lengthy talk with Medicare officials about the myriad problems.

"I really don't know what the future will bring. . . . I have a very deep concern that psychiatric patients will suffer disproportionately," Sharfstein said. "If by the end of February or March, if [federal officials] haven't figured this out, we could have an epidemic on our hands." (WaPo)

This nightmare affects all of society, not just the mentally ill. I've seen numerous people admitted to the hospital because they aren't on medicines that could assist in controlling depressive/psychotic symptoms; this is not because they won't take the meds, but because they don't have the insurance and can't afford the meds. If something substantial isn't done to help Medicare, this will continue to be a nightmare for the many people who need medicine and the friends and family members that care for them.

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