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Statement by Andrew Sperling, Policy Director, National Alliance for the Mentally Ill
In healthcare, too many policymakers think one-dimensionally, focusing on illnesses either as short-term events or as separate, isolated conditions. But the reality is different. New awareness and new approaches are needed.
More than 125 million Americans have at least one chronic condition, requiring treatment and care over years, as part of their life course. Sixty million have multiple conditions. In many instances, different conditions present common challenges in navigating a fragmented health care system.
Last year, the U.S. Surgeon General's landmark report on mental health noted that one in five Americans will experience mental illness. Mental illnesses are biological brain disorders. Treatment works, but only if a person gets it. In many instances, beginning as early as childhood or adolescence, mental disorders must be carefully managed and treated throughout a lifetime. People with mental illness often face stigma and discrimination. But the challenges facing them are much the same as for people with Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, or other conditions.
According to the Harris Interactive survey released today by Johns Hopkins University and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the "Partnership for Solutions" consortium [see below], which includes NAMI, two-thirds of Americans believe they are likely to develop a chronic illness in their lifetime. They worry about be able to afford necessary medical care when that time comes. They worry about maintaining their independence.
The vast majority-between 70 and 90 percent-recognize that it is difficult for people with chronic conditions to get adequate health insurance, to get necessary care, to obtain prescription drug medications, or even to get help from family members. An even greater majority wants a Medicare prescription drug benefit, long-term care insurance, relevant tax breaks, and other protections.
We need comprehensive solutions, including health insurance parity for mental illness, access to the most effective medications, and expansion of Programs for Assertive Community Treatment (PACT), the state-of-the-art, community-based model for managing the most severe mental illnesses.
Such investments are expensive. But they are cheaper in the long run, particularly through the reduction of hospital costs. Congress and states need to start making investments now. By 2020, the number of Americans living with chronic conditions is expected to increase by more than 25 million, with direct medical costs doubling to more than $1 trillion and constituting 80 percent of the nation's healthcare bill.
The future is now.
Congress must take action.
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