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Salt Lake City conference highlights how health reform helps the mentally ill

Published October 31, 2012 9:16 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

By extending health insurance to tens-of-millions of uninsured Americans, federal health reform will make it easier for people to access behavioral and substance abuse therapy.

How much easier hinges on key decisions facing states and the U.S. government, says Jeanie Edens, a health policy planner with Salt Lake County Behavioral Services.

Edens will describe what's at stake at a conference Friday sponsored by the National Alliance for Mental Illness Utah (NAMI). Titled "Putting the Pieces Together," the event highlights the inter-connectedness of physical and mental health.

The day-long conference runs from 8:30 a.m to 5 p.m. at the University of Utah's Student Union Building.

The keynote speaker will be Fred Frese, an internationally-known psychologist with schizophrenia who will talk about his personal path to recovery.

Experts will talk about how it's possible to improve mental health through exercise, such as yoga, and by managing diet and environment — whether at home or at work.

"It's about how do I make my personal surroundings part of my recovery," said NAMI Utah outreach director Mary Burchett.

There is a talk on "Killing Criticism with Communication Kung Fu" and sessions on the value of family and peer supports — "having that listening ear, someone who isn't trying to judge or diagnose you," said Burchett.

Edens will focus on policy and encourage consumers to make their voices heard.

The Affordable Care Act expands Medicaid to cover an additional 40,000 Salt Lake County residents, 30 to 40 percent of whom are in need of some type of therapy, she said. But the expansion is optional for states, and Utah leaders are withholding judgment until after the election.

The health law also bars insurers from rejecting people because they have a history of mental illness or addiction. And scores of Utahns will be eligible for federal subsidies to help them afford private coverage.

But the types of mental health services insurers will offer depends, in part, on what states mandate as "essential," Edens said.

Utah has picked its "essential benefits" package, which must be federally approved. It covers inpatient hospitalizations, but few outpatient therapy sessions, which are cheaper and can prevent crises, said Edens. —

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NAMI Utah's conference is open to the public, but registration is required and costs $40. Register online or in person the day of the conference: http://tinyurl.com/NAMIConference2012.