Mental Health: Timothy's Story

April 23, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
It's a longstanding practice of health insurers -- providing less coverage for those with emotional as opposed to physical disorders.For Timothy O'Clair, life was spiraling out of control.

"He'd grab a rope and climb up his favorite climbing tree and tie it off and threaten to jump," says Tom O'Clair, Timothy's father.

Timothy was severely depressed. But his parents' insurance wouldn't pay for the intensive care he needed. Their only hope -- put Timothy into foster care where he'd qualify for full psychiatric treatment. But they'd have to hand over custody of their son to get it.

"The hardest decision that his mother or I made," Tom says.

Their health plan gave them only minimal coverage for Timothy's mental illness. Most insurers, even Medicare, charge higher co-pays, reimburse at lower rates, and set strict limits on treatments for psychological disorders.

"They are sort of second class diseases, despite that fact that they are extremely common and an enormous source of suffering," says Richard Friedman, M.D., a psychiatrist at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, N.Y.

As a ward of the state, Timothy finally got the comprehensive care he needed. But it was too little, too late. Six weeks after he came back to his family, Timothy took his own life.

"I walked into the kitchen, and there lay Timothy on the floor, gray," Tom recalls.

Since then, Tom has fought for a law to ensure that insurance covers psychological disorders at the same level as physical ones. And this year, he won.

"This is Timothy's work and I'm just his hands," Tom says.

New York state enacted "Timothy's Law," requiring equal coverage for mental health care to help keep Timothy's tragic story from ever happening again.

The Mental Health Parity Bill, a national version of Timothy's Law, passed the senate in September. A house vote is expected soon. One in four Americans -- 75 million adults and children -- suffer from a psychological or substance abuse disorder. If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:
www.timothyslaw.org


Load Comments