Listen: Wyden press conference on insurance companies not providing mental health coverage

File photo. The May 28 conference was by telephone only.

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden held a telephone press conference Thursday to announce that he had asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate how some insurance companies have been using a number of strategies to deny mental health coverage to their insured. He noted that Congress passed a law in 2008 requiring that mental health be covered equally with physical health. That has become more noticeable since the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting restrictions, including business and school closures and job loss.

“The response needed to protect Americans’ physical health because of COVID-19, is exacting an unprecedented toll on Americans’ mental health,” he said, “and it is adding layer on layer of obstacles to already thick walls insurance companies he built up to block Americans from getting the health care they need.”

Wyden said there was a “tsunami of mental health challenges” poised to hit what he called  “the ramshackle mental health system.” He added that he had received information from Oregon Health Sciences University that they found a number of roadblocks from insurers, including outright denial of claims that should be covered.

In stressing the seriousness of the situation, Wyden said his own family had been hit hard by the mental illness of his brother Jeff Wyden, who often roamed the streets and whose illness ultimately cost him his life at age 51 in 2002. 

Wyden noted that the 2008 bill to require mental health coverage parity was an issue that ran across party lines; it had been jointly sponsored by conservative Republican Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico and liberal Democratic Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota.

He said the Government Accountability Office has confirmed that it will investigate the matter

To hear the whole conference, click on the grey podcast bar below