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A regressive plan for treating mentally ill

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In the Feb. 3 paper of the Times, there was an informative article written by Sean Ewart regarding the governor’s plan in his budget to curtail the ability of one’s personal physician to have the “final say” regarding a Medicaid patient’s psychiatric medicine. Instead the governor, in order to save money, wants to have a “health plan manager” decide on the medications a mentally ill patient can obtain.

What an appalling situation the governor’s proposal represents for the mentally ill. Not only do the mentally ill have to face a daily barrage of news reporting claims that current waves of violent acts sweeping the country involve someone with a mental illness, but also, the weaknesses in treatment of mental illness which present huge daily challenges to such individuals misunderstood by the majority.

In most violent acts taking place, the perpetrator(s) did not have sufficient access to mental health treatment providers and facilities or did not have effective treatment for their instability. Mental health services in New York are still laden with outdated regulations and notions. We don’t allow access to in-hospital stays unless there is some outward expression of violence by the patient. Thus we end up putting the ill person and others at risk by giving them a “fix” for the moment with no long-term solution. In-hospital stays dictated by insurance companies determining how long a patient has to recover are seldom adequate. Follow-up outpatient care is often nonexistent, inadequate or hit and miss.

It has taken decades just to get insurance companies to include coverage for mental illness. Our society continues to stigmatize and humiliate people who suffer from such illness. The governor’s current policy continues to promote this type of backward thinking and targets those unable to “speak up” for themselves. Mental illness needs consistent medical treatment under the direction of a doctor without interference in the exercise of her/his medical judgment, so the patient can have some relief from symptoms and hope of a more “normal” life. A “health plan manager” is not a solution to patient stability.

The governor’s plan only exemplifies continued discrimination against individuals afflicted by mental illness. We must do better. My only hope is that many citizens will approach their legislators on this topic and require the medical decision-making process by one’s physician be maintained and stop this counterproductive notion of bureaucrats making medical decisions.

Cynthia Graham

Watertown

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