Monday, February 06, 2006

Medicare Part (D)isaster: Making the Mentally Ill Sicker

Today's WaPo:

Stability of Mentally Ill Shaken By Medicare Drug Plan Problems
Some Prescription Denials Have Heightened Distress

Since the prescription program made its debut Jan. 1, some of the estimated 2 million mentally ill Americans covered because they receive both Medicare and Medicaid have gone without the drugs that keep their delusions, paranoia, anxieties or stress in check. Mental health service providers and advocacy organizations nationwide say they worry that scores are at high risk of relapse. Numerous people have been hospitalized.

San Antonio Express, last week:

Medicare glitches are hurting the mentally ill

As the days and nights passed, Floyd Spears watched with dread as the pale yellow pills in the medicine bottle dwindled.

When they were gone, the voices began.

They tormented him, insisting he lash out. He'd pound his fist against his forehead, screaming aloud at them to stop.

In nine years, Spears, 42, never missed a day of work as chief of a local janitorial crew. But since his pills ran out and couldn't be refilled amid the chaos of the new Medicare prescription drug benefit, he's been at home struggling to control his moods and his life.

Spears, who has paranoid schizophrenia, is one of many people with mental illnesses falling through the cracks as the new federal program continues to suffer major technological and administrative glitches.

The American Psychiatric Association reports increased patient relapses and emergency hospitalizations. Local doctors, pharmacies and caseworkers are grappling with how to get patients the medications they desperately need.


Since the new program began, many patients have left drugstores empty-handed because government databases didn't have their information. Health plans' help lines have been jammed. Pharmacists don't know which drugs were covered under which plans.

The fiasco has put the already-vulnerable population of those with mental illnesses at particular risk, said Lupe Morin, past president of the San Antonio chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

"Many of these people are having delusions and just struggling to stay somewhat stable every day," she said. "They're not going to pay close attention to all the letters and literature sent to them about this complicated program. Then they sit on the phone all day on hold trying to get answers about policies they don't even understand."

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