As published in the Record Journal on Sunday March 2, 2013
By Andrew Ragali
WALLINGFORD - The legislature’s Program Review and Investigations Committee will hold a public hearing Thursday at Town Hall to address mental health and substance abuse issues involving young adults.
The hearing will begin at 4 p.m. in the Town Hall auditorium. Public hearings held by legislative committees are normally conducted in Hartford, but a directive from House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, has each committee trying to have at least one public hearing in a different city or town, said Alberto Negron, a press aide for House Democrats.
Negron said the goal is to bring public hearings to the places where issues have originated.
“I think it’s a great idea,” said state Rep. Mary M. Mushinsky, D-Wallingford, co-chairwoman of the program review committee, who suggested the public hearing be held in Wallingford. “It’s really good to get out into the field.”
Mushinsky said Wallingford is a good meeting place because there are several organizations in south central Connecticut area fighting to protect youths from substance abuse or mental health issues that can lead to substance abuse.
Also, Mushinsky “thought it made sense” because the town has had a number of drug-related deaths. She mentioned Kathryn McCormack, who died of a suspected drug overdose, accidentally smothering her 13-month old son, Caleb J. Riley, in their High Street home on Dec. 7.
The Coalition for a Better Wallingford was created by local residents Jennifer Short and Ken Welch after Taylor Short, 20, Jennifer Short’s daughter, died of an apparent overdose in New Haven in November.
The program review committee is proposing several bills to make mental health and substance abuse assistance more accessible to young adults. Mushinsky said that over the last six months, the “data-driven” committee has researched the issue. A new report shows that while there is parity in state insurance between mental and physical ailments, “mental health parity does not exist for private insurance,” Mushinsky said.
The committee studied young people between 12 and 25. One in four met the clinical criteria for substance abuse, but a significant number of troubled youths aren’t treated because of insurance issues, the report found.
It can take days to receive proper mental health treatment through a private insurer, even in emergencies, Mushinsky said. A person insured by a private company “may be in great distress and even in danger of death, but you’re going to get the runaround,” she said.
“It was a problem I simply was not aware of,” said state Sen. Joe Markley, R-Cheshire, a member of the committee. As the study was conducted over a six-month period and Markley learned more about the struggles of obtaining treatment, “you become more and more concerned about the seriousness of the problem,” he said.
Markley said proposed changes will be limited, “but very effective.”
The committee is laying out several bills that would provide oversight of private insurers, helping to enforce state and federal parity laws that already exist. Other bills look to speed up the timetable for treatment and others make the appeals process quicker when insurers refuse to pay for mental health or substance abuse treatment.
All proposed bills will be listed next week on the committee’s website, which can be found through www.ct.gov, Mushinsky said. The committee’s report is posted on the website.
Those who wish to testify during the public hearing can sign up at Town Hall starting at 3 p.m. Thursday. The hearing will begin at 4 p.m. Public officials will testify for the first hour, and testimony from the general public will follow.
“We do want to hear from people that have gone through this misery,” Mushinsky said.