Chicago Tribune

10 years after federal law to protect insurance coverage of mental illness, advocates question if it's working

When his adopted son, then 10 years old, started to hear voices and act violently, Matthew Timion knew the boy needed psychiatric help. He did not realize how difficult it would be to pay for it.

Timion, a computer programmer who at the time lived in Oak Park, Ill., and now lives in Moline, Ill., said he was in a continual fight with his private insurance and the state to fund his son's stays at numerous psychiatric hospitals.

After a hospital stay when the boy was 13, Timion placed him in a $300-per-day residential facility where he expected treatment to last for nine months to a year, per the advice of multiple doctors. But Timion's insurance, which required weekly updates, after a month decided the boy was no longer a threat and that it would not cover any more days, Timion said.

"I remember thinking, This is insane that we have zero resources for people who could turn into violent shooters," said Timion, who asked that his son not be named. The boy had a history of kicking holes in the wall, pulling knives and, when the family started hiding potential weapons, breaking light bulbs to get shards of glass to use to cut himself, Timion said. He was afraid to bring him home.

"I'm trying to prevent the next headline," he said.

It has been 10 years since Congress passed the federal mental health parity law, which prohibits insurance plans from imposing stricter coverage limits

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