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Sweetening the Bailout

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After a rocky start, Congress had little problem getting enough members to sign on to the $700 billion financial rescue plan of Wall Street late last week, thanks in part to extra projects tacked on like a "mental health parity" provision that would prevent insurance companies from placing different deductibles and lifetime limits on mental health services.

The bill has been championed by the mental health advocates like the National Alliance on Mental Illness, according to this article in the New York Times.

As I noted in an article that ran in Education Week last month, many children aren't getting the mental health services they need.

A task force of the Washington-based American Psychological Association released its own report Aug. 13 on children with mental-health problems. According to the task force, 15 million children nationally have been diagnosed with a mental disorder, but only a quarter of them are getting appropriate treatment that is based on scientific evidence. The rest fall victim to a fragmented, inefficient model of mental-health care, the task force said.

The mental health parity provision benefited from a little parliamentary sleight-of-hand. Earlier this year, the House passed the "Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008," which prevents health plans offered by medium or large companies from putting any caps on mental health or addiction services that they do not place on physical health services. That bill, H.R. 1424, then moved to the Senate for a vote.

On October 1, the Senate took H.R. 1424 and rewrote it to include the financial bailout and other projects.

The Wall Street Journal calls this "Congressional housekeeping," since the bailout bill was the last major piece of legislation to pass before Congress adjourned.

1 Comment

This is an important issue. Even very young children can show signs of mental health difficulties. That's why Head Start has standards mandating mental health assessment and intervention for socio-emotional problems. The challenge programs face is in finding an assessment tool that can easily and quickly be given by early childhood educators; that provides accurate, easily interpreted, and useful results; and that holds up under scientific scrutiny. A researcher at FPG Child Development Institute recently published research that found pre-school programs can improve their effectiveness in serving at-risk children by using a simple mental health screening process to identify and provide early intervention services. A summary is available at www.fpg.unc.edu/~snapshots/snap50.pdf.

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