Medical insurance companies to provide equal coverage for mental health disorders

Karlee Johnson

Medical insurance may be required to cover mental health disorders the same way they would cover physical ailments after a federal court of appeals ruling on August 26.

The ruling came after Blue Shield denied to pay for a Northern California woman’s anorexia treatment. Judge William A. Fletcher of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals stated that while the woman’s insurance plan with Blue Shield did not cover her treatment, the California Mental Health Parity Act does.

“The law signifies a sameness,” said Dr. Nikki Saltzburg, staff psychologist for CSUN University Counseling Services. “It will reduce the stigma placed upon mental illness and puts it on the same level of a physical medical issue.”

Under the Mental Health Parity Act, medical insurance companies are required to cover nine mental health disorders: schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, autism, serious emotional disturbances in children and adolescents, eating disorders, panic disorder and major depression, the ruling decided. Blue Shield can still attempt to appeal the court’s decision.

“All of these mental health disorders have some biological component to them,” said Heather Kolesar, senior psychology major. “Passing of this legislation would help researchers to figure out what causes these disorders.”

But a potential downside to this legislation could mean people with mental health disorders may receive medication when therapy will suffice, Kolesar said.

This decision will allow insured people to access medically necessary interventions for their disorders, said Dr. Debra Malmberg, assistant professor of psychology.

“Earlier intervention for individuals for some particular diagnoses can mean important cost savings to the state, schools and insurance companies,” she said.

Children with developmental disorders who receive early intervention and treatment show notable growth in social and behavioral skills, thus saving money in the long term, said Malmberg.

While depression and anxiety are among the most common mental ailments for college students, counseling centers have seen a growing number of students who suffer from eating disorders, substance abuse and self injury, according to the National Survey of Counseling Center Directors (NSCCD).

The survey also found that 44 percent of clients at college counseling centers have severe psychological problems, up from 16 percent in 2000.

CSUN counseling services see about 1,750 students every year, according to Dr. Mark Stevens, director of University Counseling Services.

“The law will be helpful for students with insurance,” said Saltzburg. “It gives people continued access to care for long term and chronic issues.”

Student health insurance provided through CSUN does give coverage for mental health disorders, but coverage does not include rehabilitation or counseling.

All CSUN students are eligible for a free evaluation, eight free individual or couple counseling sessions and unlimited group sessions from University Counseling Services.