Laurel Ridge CEO Speaks Out for 'Mental Health Parity'

The head of San Antonio's Laurel Ridge Treatment Center told a Legislative committee that the state needs to enforce what are called 'Mental Health Parity laws, which are designed to make sure that insurance companies and other providers treat mental and emotional conditions equally to physical conditions, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

Dr. Jacob Cuellar told the Texas House Committe on Public Health there has been a federal 'mental health parity' law on the books for several yars, but the Legislature needs to make sure the Texas Department of Insurance fully enforces the law.

Dr. Cuellar recalled the case of a troubled 15 year old girl who was taken to Laurel Ridge after repeatedly stabbing herself, causing major damage to her hands.

"Through  the pre-authorization process trough her insurance, she had insurance, she was denied coverage at the time of admission," he said.

Dr. Cuellar said had the patient suffered those exact same injuries through a traffic accident or was suffering from a debilitating disease, getting the appropriate treatment at a certified facility would never have been an issue.

"Because mental health and physical health treatment are treated differently, many Texans with a behavioral health diagnoses have to wait until they experience a behavioral health crisis before seeking treatment, often in clinically inapparopriate settings, such as a hosptial emergency room," he said. "Removign berriers to mental health and substance use treatment and simplifying the process to obtain it will improve behavioral health outcomes and significantly reduce hosptials' charity care burden."

Dr. Cuellar said Laurel Ridge has had to spend $500,000 this year alone hiring additional staff, including additional psychiatrists, to deal with regular reviews of care that would be unheard of with patients suffering from physical conditions.

In less than a decade, psychiatric visits to hospital emergency rooms rose 55%.  But the same increase did not occur for patients presenting to the emergency department with a physical illness, largely because those patients were able to find appropriate care at less expensive facilities, like designated pychiatric facilities and treatment centers.

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