Sunday, October 05, 2008

More on mental health parity legislation

Forty-eight states offer their own mental health parity laws, although they vary widely in the type of coverage offered. I hate to say this, but only two states do not have any type of laws on mental health parity. One is Alaska. I would advise Sarah Palin to do something about that when she returns to her regular job as governor on Nov. 5. Gov. Palin has made a big deal during the presidential campaign about her passion for special needs children, such as those with Down Syndrome, autism and birth defects. Her youngest daughter was born earlier this year with Down Syndrome. Since she won't be able to carry through with this on the national level, perhaps she can propose legislation in Alaska that can address the demands of all families with special needs children. And perhaps that effort can be adopted in Wyoming, the only other state other than Alaska without its own mental health parity law.

Wyoming is a place with 500,000 residents spread out over 99,000 square miles. We don't have enough hospitals and clinics and health care professionals to take care of the mental health needs of our residents. While the U.S. suicide rate is 11 in 100,000 and the rate in Rocky Mountain states averages 17 per 100,000, Wyoming's rate (when last measured) is the worst in the nation at 22 per 100,000 people. We have a governor who cares enough about this issue to address the Governor's Round Table on Children's Mental Health Nov. 5-6 in Cheyenne. The first lady will also speak. So will Rodger McDaniel, head of the state's Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Division.

McDaniel sees his role as a champion for those families who've been faced with drug abuse and mental health issues. He's an old school social justice activist, a lawyer and ordained minister who practices what he preaches. He and his family left Cheyenne in the 1990s to build houses in Central America for Habitat for Humanity. When you call his office you get a real person on the phone who can answer your questions or get you right to someone who can. This is just a wild guess, but I would say that most people calling his office are desperate for answers, deep in the throes of a family crisis. I was, when I called about our daughter earlier this year. Where do you go to get the help you need? How do you pay for it when your insurance runs out? If you don't have insurance, how can you cover costs at a drug treatment facility or mental health center that can cost hundreds of dollars a day?

I know at least one family in Cheyenne who had their teenager at a residential treatment center in the state for seven weeks until insurance coverage ran out. Even though their teen still needed help, they withdrew her because they didn't know what else to do. Isn't that a crock?

There are organizations in Wyoming that address these issues. I'm a board member of one -- UPLIFT of Wyoming. You can always talk to someone at UPLIFT. Go to

Do you have any tales (uplifting or horrifying) about efforts to get mental health care in Wyoming -- or any other rural Western state?

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