Leading Psychiatric Organizations Laud Obama's Signing of SCHIP Bill

New Law Includes Strong Mental-Health Coverage

Marlene Busko

February 05, 2009

February 5, 2009 ( UPDATED February 6, 2009 ) — President Barack Obama's February 4 signing of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) bill, making it law, has been lauded by 3 of the country's leading psychiatric organizations.

The new law extends health insurance to 4 million uninsured children in addition to the existing 7 million children already covered and notably provides strong mental-health coverage.

"We are especially pleased that this legislation includes strong language that will strengthen and improve access to mental-health services, including substance-abuse-treatment services for children," Nada Stotland, MD, president of the American Psychiatric Association (APA), said in a statement.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also praised President Obama and Congress for reauthorizing the program.

"Today's reauthorization of the Children's Health Insurance Program is a victory for the children of this country. With the stroke of President Obama's pen, states now have the funds to provide insurance coverage to more than 11 million children nationwide. During uncertain economic times, the White House and Congress have come together to wisely prioritize children's health," David T. Tayloe, Jr., MD, AAP president, said in a statement.

Wonderful Victory

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) had a similar positive response. "Passage of this bill addresses an urgent need to cover children who fell 'between the cracks' and were not receiving any health insurance coverage," Kristin Kroeger Ptakowski, AACAP's senior deputy executive director, told Medscape Psychiatry.

Early identification and treatment of mental illness in children or adolescents is vital, she added.

"The devastating reality is that youth with untreated mental disorders have a greatly diminished future to live independently. The adverse effect [of mental illness] on youth and their families cannot be overstated.

"This is a wonderful victory for the millions of children who did not have insurance and who will now be able to seek mental-health treatment, if needed," Kroeger Ptakowski said.

The bill (HR 2) requires private SCHIP plans to cover mental illnesses at the same rate and on the same terms as other disorders and eliminates discriminatory coverage of mental illness under the existing law.

In 1997, Congress enacted SCHIP to provide states with federal matching funds to cover uninsured children in families with incomes too high to qualify for Medicaid but too low to afford private insurance coverage.

Federal money for the program was set to expire March 31, barring action by Congress.

The newly signed children's health bill entails an over-$30-billion increase in spending, which will be covered by boosting the federal excise tax on cigarettes.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the legislation will provide coverage for an additional 4 million children by 2013, while continuing coverage for children already in the program.

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