A smear, on the U.S. Senate’s dime

25 Sep

By Mary Ann Swissler

New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand wasn’t the only target of sexism by her supposed allies in Congress.    So was I.

Her insults were done to her face and took place at work. Mine were behind my back and took place in various and sundry locations and mediums. I was gifted with a smear campaign by celebrity Senator Al Franken (D-MN), calling me a prostitute and a serial complainer of bogus sexual harassment claims.

No surprise that neither of us have gotten an “I’m sorry.” Neither could we lean on an inept Senate’s ability to get its members to act like big boys, and at least apologize for an obvious smear campaign against a private citizen—me. No, members are so cocooned in their individual fiefdoms, that treatment of us mere serfs is nary a blip on their radar. I know the Democrats have come to rely on his vote, except for approving the Bush tax cuts extension, and food stamp cuts. But no one’s above the law, except for celebrities it seems.

With Franken on the brink of a probable second term this November, I wonder who he’ll target beyond the 2014 election. No remorse means a smearing encore, after all, and if not against me then someone else too intimidated by his powerful position to fight back by speaking up.

In the meantime, it’s come to this – journalism. It’s come down to exercising my free speech rights on abuse by Franken—a complete stranger to me—smearing me as a lying, gold digging prostitute.

Not true, but that didn’t stop the freshman pol from contacting some men I’ve managed to piss off over the past 28 years, including sexual harassers from old jobs, a journalism grad school professor, and a crack-smoking junior high school teacher. Franken used his show biz and media contacts to give these men, and one woman, soap boxes in which to smear me.

It makes no sense. After fighting tooth and nail to legally prove he won the 2008 election for U.S. Senator to Minnesota, celebrity Al Franken decided to turn me into an Enemy of the State, from early ’09 to early ’11. Me, a political nobody and a very, very minor journalist.

I wouldn’t exactly care about the rantings of an obvious buffoon but Franken’s star power wooed people to his side. People believed him.

All I’ve asked for is an apology. That’s not going to happen. So here I am hoping that the pen is mightier than the sword.

I could’ve prevented the prostitution accusation, I admit. I should have kept Franken up to date over the past quarter-century of every job, grant, loan, published article or gift I received. Then, he could’ve judged if I had visible means of support and not been forced to call me a whore.

With the election so close, don’t conclude that this article is a right-wing hit piece, or a mere rant against his abuse; I’m a lifelong Democrat. As an incumbent he’ll most likely get re-elected this November. Besides, he’s in a safe district, according to the Huffington Post.  At worst, he’ll squeak through.

This episode deserves review because nothing starts an argument faster than sexual harassment complaints and this lack of understanding is getting us nowhere in our workplaces. Franken merely tapped into existing rage and cynicism,  among both women and men.

Common stereotypes abound. First, you’re not supposed to open your mouth and object more than once. Anything more is construed as a pattern, maybe of lawsuit chasing, or worse.

I spoke up four times, three for work and one for a teacher. But statistically, I’ve kept quiet. I was harassed by 15 different men and 1 female grad school teacher, over 39 years of work beginning at age 14. I just turned 53. I’m talking about: a boss rubbing his erect penis against my back while I typed, calls at home for a tryst, being asked when I’m going to visit a supervisor at home for a tryst, and the ever-popular unwanted shoulder and back rubs. Those come with or without being told, “We’re two ships passing in the night.” In 2008, a bank supervisor responded when I spoke up about a drunk customer who demanded repeatedly that I give him my phone number and go out with him, “I know you don’t like men.” He added “You were nice to him,” and suggested “Tell him you have a boyfriend.”

These 16 times don’t include being asked in Waikiki at age 20, during an interview for a supposed sales hostess, if I’d like to work as a call girl. Or in Los Angeles at age 23 at an interview for movie extras, if I’d mind performing the part of a topless soccer player. Tastefully done, of course. I said no both times and left.

At least both men took no for an answer and didn’t persist or retaliate. No deranged U.S. Senator stalked me, with help from his media and show biz contacts. This is more than I can say for many “legitimately” employed men and the grad school teacher who, with the positioning of her body, let me know she wanted more from me than my thesis project. In 1997, we were meeting to discuss my final grade and my overall academic program. I didn’t react to her overture or tell anyone. But getting no for an answer was enough for her to retaliate against me. She derailed my graduation date, stopped returning my phone calls about new classes she assigned, and moved to L.A. from San Francisco without telling me how I should handle my program paperwork. It was a mess.

This and more compelled Franken to invade my life. And it’s not as if he doesn’t understand what he did was wrong. In his own words from an August 2014 fundraising email: “Karl Rove and the Koch brothers are paying a lot of attention to Democratic senators like me….(A)ll this attention doesn’t feel like a compliment—it feels like a really scary threat.” (Italics mine).

Worst of all, instead of giving 100% to the people of Minnesota, Franken used his celebrity contacts to smear most of my past. He ridiculed me for being molested at 15. He didn’t like my parents’ religious beliefs, my work history, or my current life. Then there was the former friend he commiserated with, someone who I was once closer to than my own brother. He was my “date” to the high school prom. I know his family. In 1994 he had (and still has?) quite the active crack and drinking habit while holding down a junior high school teaching job. It was tragic to watch and dangerous for people around him: He brought two boHys home twice, once saying he brought them to meet me. He stole from a neighbor and blamed me. He told me he’d been staying out all night getting high and drinking, and blacked out the events of the evenings. I’m convinced that during this time he set two middle-of-the-night fires in the classroom of a female teacher he loathed with a passion. As his roommate I listened to his incessant complaining about her, especially her arched eyebrows. He sounded almost pleased while describing the fires to me.

This is the part Franken added to my list of crimes: I called my ex-friend’s school and placed a call to the Oakland police department. The cop who answered the phone accused me of trying to get an ex-lover in trouble. It didn’t help when I said he and I were both gay. “Bill” and I never kissed much less did anything else.

Thanks to the machinations of his law professor sister, “Bill” kept his teaching job. He later left Oakland and teaches in his new town.

Should I have looked the other way and not reported anything? I almost didn’t. Despite dissolving our friendship, it took me months to work through my “he was my best friend” guilt. These common feelings are why underreporting is the real problem, not false accusations. I’ve heard it “explained” on MSNBC, of all networks, that false allegations are rampant.

It’s this hostility that drives women’s silence: Less than one-half of women reported their workplace harassment, according to a survey by The American Association of University Women.

So thank you, Al Franken, for reminding me I’m part of an elite group: the few, the proud, the ones who spoke up at work and school, to say, “This shiat is not in my job description.”

And I also owe a debt of gratitude to the Senate for their outrageous lack of oversight and deafening silence in response to my emails, calls and faxes about Franken. I especially owe this debt to Harry Reid for keeping Franken’s seat on Judiciary, even though he’s against what gender rights laws protect—dignity at work, home and in public. And membership on Judiciary’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights? What a bad joke.

The lack of humor doesn’t stop there. Franken has now been trying to worm his way into the women’s movement through networking with groups, speaking out and introducing legislation.

But despite the bad jokes, my voice matters, especially since I’m the underdog, not in spite of it. Still, I’m left with questions. Why wouldn’t the Senate just look at my accusations instead of getting some grouchy attorney to send a letter rejecting any investigation? I have two words for them: Bob Packwood (R-OR), the Senator forced from office in 1995 because his women’s rights activism came with an asterisk: he doubled as a letch. Franken may not hit on women indiscriminately like Packwood but his retaliation was equally damaging. The fact that it violates sexual harassment laws to retaliate against a complainant didn’t stop him; who or what will?

Even after I reached out in an August 2009 fax to Franken’s D.C. office, saying “no hard feelings,” but if there’s a next time could he get my input about my own life? I also called both his Minnesota and D.C. to try and solve this. I left a message. I h eard nothing back. Useless, I know, but at least I made an effort. A few months later, the retaliation began about some 15-year-old, unwanted touching and shoulder rubbing by a newsroom colleague in the Bay Area. In 1999, this male coworker had been “going from woman to woman” according to one female editor, and now it was my turn. I emailed the guy to please stop, he got angry so I told my boss. This supervisor did all the right things but then fostered resentment of me by other supervising editors and coworkers. People said I overreacted. I know it upsets the workplace to call someone a pest and a harasser. Bosses have to take time away from their work to deal with a complaint. But I do know that if a woman—or man—doesn’t speak up, nothing will change.

People will say the takeaway message from this is I learned something. I learned that post-traumatic stress disorder is a real thing. I re-lived each detail of the horrors I’d managed to put behind me and which I was being attacked for. Mostly it was the fear in my gut that never leaves, feeling like I was physically back in those situations, with the isolation from coworkers and bosses who may not understand, and frustration that my livelihood was on the line because some jerk feels rejected.

Here’s another version on the journey through periodic PTSD, from Alison Downs on xojane.com: “PTSD is a scratch across the record album that is your brain, forcing your memory to get stuck in a rut and skip. PTSD is a harsh interruption and a reminder of terrible incidents — truly terrible incidents. Incidents that were so disturbing, your brain didn’t know how to process them… so it continues to try.”

She continues, “During a PTSD flashback, your brain rewinds to the worst moment of your entire life. Then that horrible moment is amplified and played over and over again. Every nasty sight, sound, smell, and physical sensation, replayed in your brain in an infinite loop. You hate it. You don’t want to see it, you don’t want to think about it, but you are powerless to stop it.”

Fortunately, later on, I had the privilege of working among consummate professionals at two daily newspapers while living in north New Jersey. I wonder if it’s an East Coast-West Coast thing. I just started as a copy editor at the Jersey Journal when 9/11 hit, located in Jersey City just a short trip over the nearby Hudson river.  It was intense to say the least. Then, I worked, again as a part-time copy editor, for the largest paper in the state, the Star-Ledger in Newark.

I learned that fair workplaces like those two papers do exist, and to appreciate them even if that appreciation comes years later.

And now, ultimately, I have to temper my justifiable outrage with wisdom, calm, and forward momentum. But while I’ve worked out my rage at being held up, for no good reason, for public ridicule by a douchey celebrity like Franken, and other doofuses he knows in the media and show biz , I’m still concerned about his future smear campaigns against women, or men.  There’s definitely no one stopping him.

I have advice for the Senate’s recruiters: Next time, conduct an IQ test for potential candidates or at least find people who’ve had more therapy than Franken obviously hasn’t had.

ADDENDUM: I’ve thought about this essay. Maybe it’s a little lopsided, excluding my own foibles. On the whole, I don’t think using work as a potential dating pool is a good idea. But, we’re all human and sometimes chemistry speaks louder than reason. I’ve had my share of infatuation at the office and on rare times things clicked. Other times not. In love, I’ve had to hear no for an answer. But I took no for an answer. The first time.

Speaking of chemistry, I’ve put my share of illegal chemicals in my body to get high. Past tense. Way past. But unlike one of the shady characters profiled in my blog post, I never went into blackouts and started revenge fires, as a result of taking drugs or drinking. Or drove school age children around in my car while high as a kite. And probably drunk. While employed as their school teacher.

Misunderstandings can start wars

14 Apr

It’s no coincidence that the Japanese short story “Rashomon” is a crime story. This timeless ode to the varying versions of “the truth” touches on the passions that can arise when defending one’s point of view.

This story has nothing on a Rashomon-like incident in my life that is still grist for the rumor mill 28 years after it happened.

Al Franken certainly picked up on it as part of his time-consuming smear campaign against me when he first got in office in 2009 and 2010; to this day he’s failed to apologize. Using his showbiz and media contacts, Franken called me a prostitute. He contacted people about whom I’ve had to complain about sexual harassment at work; 2 guys who couldn’t take no for an answer. Franken spread it around in his multi-media, multi-person campaign that I was out to get men because molestation was in my background. Worse, he keeps trying to worm his way into feminist causes by networking with women’s groups, speaking and introducing Congressional legislation about stalking, sexual assault and pro-choice issues. He’s a classic sociopath, numb to the damage he causes.

Part of the rumors about me goes something like this: In L.A. in 1985 and 1986, some poor man tried to help me get published by recommending his agent to me. He had no hidden agenda, of course. I repaid his no-strings kindness by smearing him as a child molester.

No amount of saying “I never said that” will move some people from their conclusion that I can’t live unless I’m accusing some innocent male of sexual wrongdoing. Never mind that nut jobs like me believe in a branch of the government called the police. They are the ones I would tell if I had evidence, not a bunch of clueless writers who had their own questionable grips on reality.

But I never even thought that of this man. I felt horrible he was being portrayed this way and didn’t think he had it coming, given the lies he told me. Nobody deserves that.

This is what actually happened:

I was 24, deep into long-term group therapy, not being prescribed (helped) with medication and at the lowest point in my relationship with my family, working full-time and spending all my spare time writing a book proposal on child molestation. In a word, I was vulnerable. Throw in depressed.  I still didn’t want to stereotype all men as shallow dogs. But I confused being open with being gullible and blind to someone’s ham-handed moves. So, I developed a friendship with a man in his 40s who belonged to my writer’s group. He thought his adopted daughter had been molested as a child by an uncle.  I was touched and felt safe meeting with him a couple of times to discuss my book, his daughter, writing, and his own past hurts.

He pissed me off after I came to my senses about his intentions to befriend me with no ulterior motives, especially since he used his daughter as bait. “You’ve made her feel safe,” I said to him more than once. I guess he got a good chuckle out of that. To me, he used her to try to get laid.

Another woman in the writing group, who seemed to know this man well, told me during a phone conversation about the help I was receiving from their group, “It’s not a social group.” She said this twice. I didn’t know what to make of it at the time.

When I finally saw things clearly, I called her again. This is the conversation that I think caused her to conclude I called him a molester and turned me into a social piñata and pariah at the same time:

Me:  He used his daughter to try to get laid.

Her:  No, it was the uncle.

Me:  I know.

Her: It was the uncle.

Me: I know.

Then she prattled on about being picked on too, that this man was a fair weather friend and I forget the rest. But I do recall that part of the conversation, if only because of the trouble it caused me. And continues to cause to this day.

I thought the conversation ended on good terms; nothing prepared me for what she told people I said. It’s still unbelievable that that’s what she gleaned from our talk.

Eventually I avoided the group but first had the misguided thought that people would stop targeting me if they could see and talk to me. I probably became a pest. I’d never been the focus of one of these pile-ons before and wasn’t sure how to react. Unfortunately, I reverted to the pattern I saw growing up and in my teens — drink your problems away.  My group therapy was over by then, my therapist didn’t understand and now my book was just a punchline. I should have started up with another therapist instead of toughing it out alone.

Soon, I became the focus of an L.A. Weekly newspaper columnist, quite the windbag, who could string together a narrative. He was held in high esteem and still is. This was in the late ’80s. His name is Michael Ventura.

He got in some warm water for launching, using his weekly column “Letters at 3 a.m.”, a loud, whisper campaign on me, that I’d called another writer a child molester, among other atrocities. Maybe he didn’t start the lie but he certainly messengered it around like gospel. He masqueraded in his columns, never using my name but describing his impressions of me in great detail, and his ignorant interpretations of my circumstances, all of it with withering contempt.

Apparently he nor anyone else knew how to operate a telephone or the postal system, since I didn’t find out about my “accusation” until years later, at a women’s writing group in L.A.

With that other group, I was looking for career support in the wrong places and what I really did was place a bulls eye on my back. Still, I didn’t deserve the fallout that at times seems to survive to this day. Who knows? Live and learn. I was 24. Today, I’d ignore someone like that instead of going to dinner with him and falling for his line about his daughter and help finding me an agent.

As it blew up in Ventura’s face, this gent wrote a fact-challenged series on his own molestation at the hands of his mother. I think his whole series of columns was fiction. He should’ve titled it “Better living through incest” because he stated it was wrong but that it made him a man; not his exact words but that was the gist. Even one of my guy friends thought so. And then — natch’ — his peers in the journalism-writing community coronated him with an award.

It’s not the award I minded, as much as the hurt from the hypocrisy of these 1st Amendmenters. Where the hell was my free speech? Instead, his lies beget more lies, and then beget awards. For special people, that is. Ventura went on to write a very long book about the failures of psychotherapy.

Last time I checked that writing organization disbanded. Maybe they just operate under a different name.

What Will It Take? Inequality in Mental Health Vs. Medical Treatment Insurance Coverage

6 Mar

By Mary Ann Swissler, eyewryt@gmail.com

This article was completed with the support of Fund for Investigative Journalism.

From the Daily Kos: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/03/04/1282188/-What-s-It-Going-To-Take-Inequality-in-Mental-Health-Vs-Medical-Treatment-Insurance-Coverage

Janette has been very depressed and is considering psychotherapy. She went to therapy years ago but had to quit because her workplace insurance didn’t cover mental health treatment. Today, her desire for weekly talk therapy and maybe medication, are easy for her insurance plan to deliver in the good news/bad news world of mental health treatment reforms.

First, Janette went online to her state’s healthcare exchange and found out she’s lucky; not only did her state set up its own exchange it was one of 25 states to expand Medicaid. As with all plans—public and private—Medicaid now covers mental health in an unprecedented way: no strict visit limits, no copays higher than medical doctors, no lengthy prior authorizations, and a longer list of doctor choices.  Janette gladly returned to her old therapist because she knew her history. Getting to her office added an hour to her commute, and the $30 co-pay each week meant working overtime, but Janette felt it would all be worth it.

But she quickly found a wrinkle that she had to iron out before re-embarking on medications, available for a low $5 co-pay—she couldn’t find a psychiatrist who accepted Medicaid, to prescribe pills .

Undaunted, Janette put herself on the 6-month waiting list for a psychiatrist at her community health clinic, and obtained a temporary prescription for antidepressants from her primary physician.  Janette could have chosen a private plan but chose the much cheaper Medicaid; short-term inconvenience was a small price to pay. And she might have a shorter wait; the Obama administration announced $50 million in funding to help Community Health Centers establish or expand services for people living with mental illness, and drug and alcohol problems.

Janette’s also been trying to convince her widowed mother Ella to seek grief-counseling through Medicare. They’ve expanded coverage through the sweeping changes of Obamacare and a 2008 law, the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, both requiring that both public and private insurers cover mental health and addiction treatments.

For Medicaid, this is only true if a state gets behind healthcare reform. And states will be responsible for enforcing mental health parity, according to a spokeswoman for the federal regulating agency, U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS).

Janette explained to her Mom that Medicare will now pay 80 percent of doctor fees, up from 50 percent, and cannot limit the number of doctor visits. Only the physician can decide what’s “medically necessary” and therefore eligible for insurance coverage. Janette’s concerned, however, because Medicare announced they will end “protected class status” for psychiatric drugs beginning in 2015. This means that insurers will no longer be required to pay for the entire class of psychiatric and transplant drugs; other chronic disease medications for cancer and HIV/AIDS, for instance, will remain protected.

Moreover, more complex situations requiring hospitalizations, more intensive outpatient therapy and more medications still face discrimination by insurers, according to patients and attorneys interviewed. And 53 percent of 462 women surveyed who sought therapy from 2010-2013, called insurance “a barrier to care.”  The survey was conducted by Survey Monkey for this article. 

Interpretation of the law is the biggest obstacle, according to Los Angeles attorney Kathryn Trepinski:  “Patients and providers, not surprisingly, advocate a broad reading of the statute to include ‘all medically necessary treatment’ for mental illness. Health insurance companies, in contrast, argue for a narrow reading of the statute. They bristle at providing all medically necessary treatment, advocating instead for a discrete set of limited services such as diagnostic laboratory tests, physician services, inpatient hospitalization, and preventive health services.”

Indeed, despite the new laws, a May 2012 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office showed that health insurance plans have actually increased the number of exclusions for mental health and addiction treatments since the laws were enacted.  In 2010 and 2011, for example, 15 percent of the plans surveyed by the GAO were excluding residential mental health, a significant increase from 2008, the year Congress passed the law.

Insurers have repeatedly blamed this loose enforcement of the parity laws on the lack of guidelines from HHS. So a Hallejulah chorus went up among insurers and activists when the HHS guidelines came through in November 2013. But Trepinski, who is currently suing mega-insurer Anthem scoffed at the notion that regulations spell progress.   “California has had guidelines in place since 1999. Anthem has had plenty of time to get their act together and they haven’t,” she said.

According to legal documents filed by Trepinksi, “Despite these statutory mandates Anthem has persistently refused to authorize treatment to patients, through the use … of their guidelines. (Their) guidelines contain discriminatory treatment mandates that are not applicable to physical-only conditions.”

Sandra is another adult patient who wants therapy. She’s had an eating disorder off and on since age 14, a disease that kills more people than all other mental illnesses combined. Women make up 90 percent of those with eating disorders.  Because of the new laws, she’s one of hundreds of litigants in lawsuits currently making their way through the justice system over the main bugaboo—medical necessity:  Her psychiatrist spelled out what she believed was “medically necessary” treatment, but then after an extensive Prior Authorization process, the insurer knocked her treatment instructions down like bowling pins.

It’s the start of another trip on the insurance merry-go-round, Sandra thought to herself. Just as she gets her footing while in the hospital during the limited amount of time the insurer approves, the inpatient therapy ends, and she faces life on her own interrupted by the once weekly outpatient psychotherapy. The drugs take the edge off but don’t solve the problem. She tends to relapse and ends up back in her psychiatrist’s office asking for more hospital time. Or, more than once Sandra had to be taken by ambulance from her home or work.

It’s a situation about 1 in 4 Americans find themselves in each day, the number of adults with a mental health issue, both minor enough to handle on an outpatient basis and the more serious diseases requiring periodic hospitalizations. Yet nearly half of the 11.4 million Americans suffering from a major mental disorder – schizophrenia, eating disorder, bipolar disorder – don’t receive treatment.

For women there’s the added layer of discrimination against the symptoms of traumatic life experiences which can mirror organic mental illnesses.  Problems normally restricted to women –eating disorders, domestic violence, stalking, sexual harassment and rape – are tougher for women to solve because of cultural barriers that persist in psychotherapy.

A woman might actually have someone stalking them, and not be clinically “paranoid,” for instance.  Or as Stassa Edwards wrote in the April 2013 Ms. Magazine, “Certainly it seems that the twinning of sexuality and mental fitness is still a political tool deployed regularly to discredit women and their ability to make rational decisions.”   

Women aren’t overtly discriminated against in mental health treatment but women face a different world when it comes to mental health, said Kelly Anderson, executive director of Dane County, Wisconsin Rape Crisis Center. Patients can be labeled with psychiatric diagnoses when they need different approaches, she said.  Anderson talked about “pathologizing feelings and behaviors” that arise from trauma, as an organic mental illness. In other words, victims are blamed.

It’s where the prevailing wisdom of the sexual assault healing community and traditional therapy part company. She calls for a holistic model for sexual violence counseling because “we can’t separate” the issues. “It’s not a denial of mental health problems” but of finding a balance, said Anderson.

Sexual assault victims in the military face a war with red tape in the Veterans Administration for PTSD counseling benefits.  They are much less likely to be approved for disability status – needed to receive counseling – than if they complained of battleground mental trauma, according to activist Jacob Angel, of the Military Mental Health Project.

Worse, Angel said, is a military culture that tells all vets they’re weak for having mental health issues at all. “They say, ‘It happened, deal with it, get over it’. That has to be overcome.”

A blue-ribbon panel came to the same conclusion. “The military has produced dozens of programs aimed at preventing mental illness among troops during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but there’s little evidence that most of them work.”   

Angel pointed to the peace women vets who’ve been raped get when seeking mental health treatment. “They’ve had to search high and low for help but when they do they’re testaments that treatment works. There’s no cure but there are coping mechanisms.”

More homeless women than men with mental health issues wind up incarcerated,  according to a 2006 Justice Department study. “More than half of prisoners in the United States have a mental health problem. Among female inmates, almost three-quarters have a mental disorder.”  

So the long term answer to our question of the future of mental health insurance payments is yes, people living with mental health issues can emerge from the shadows of stigma and nonpayment by their insurers because of new rules and laws, including Obamacare, that require them to reimburse mental health and addiction treatment at the same rate as they do for medical care. On paper anyway, gone are the days when insurance companies can resort to trickery to avoid paying for hospitalizations or out-of-state treatment facilities or long-term outpatient care, usually under the catch-all phrase of not “medically necessary.”

But change will be slow. As one expert put it, “It’s not like this (law) passes and a spigot turns on and benefits just start flowing. They have battalions of lawyers right now scurrying to figure out how they can get around this rule and they will try new techniques to limit access to care.”

The learning curve promises to be steep and the pace of change glacial, judging from the survey of 462 women taken in the Fall 2013.

In the survey, 53 percent of the women called insurance “a barrier to care.” Those swimming in the glass half full will point to the 47 percent who called insurance “a helpful partner.”  When asked if insurance provided choice of therapists who understood their problems, only 46 percent said yes, insurance provided caregivers with relevant expertise.  Due to visit limits, 31 percent reported seeing her therapist for a shorter time than desired and 35 percent called co-pays “a barrier to care”.

Additional comments included: “It’s not easy to find someone in your geographic area who’s covered”; “I didn’t understand insurance practices and uses”; “When I was paying for my own individual plan it hardly covered any of my treatment”; “It was helpful for three appointments, then I could not afford the co-pay after that.”; “I was told to join a group but could not find one.”; “I paid out of pocket, because I was afraid of insurance discrimination in the future.”; “I could only see a handful of providers and they weren’t nearby. Now I have no insurance and can’t see anyone – I have been on a waiting list for over a year.”; “My health insurance didn’t cover any therapy. I had to take out loans that amounted to tens of thousands of dollars to pay for treatment.”; “(Partially) it was a huge nightmare because I needed to be a full-time student to be covered and I needed to leave school for treatment several times so it was a huge ordeal trying to stay covered and also get treatment to save my health. It was like a catch 22.”; “I received several sessions free, but had to drive a minimum of an hour to get to appointments, and an hour to get home. The time involved itself caused as much anxiety. I just wanted to get the appointment over with so I could get home.”

The answer? Patrick Kennedy, co-sponsor of the landmark parity legislation, said enforcement will depend upon psychiatrists and administrators fighting alongside their patients for their rights.  “Consumers need to be vigilant,” and that’s part of the problem, added Los Angeles attorney Lisa Kantor. People seeking mental health treatment are vulnerable because of their condition and the stigma. “I think the insurance companies know this, and they prey on that fact…We need people to not take no for an answer.”

That’s going to be a new skill, according to the survey results. Over 84 percent reported not appealing a claim rejection. Among the women, 6 percent were rejected and 10 percent won their appeals. Only one person among 462 was suing. A first step is available through this free, step-by-step toolkit for appealing a denied claim.

And, the current political climate will make enforcement by states tough, said Trepinski. Many state governments are fighting back against ObamaCare tooth and nail. “They don’t want to set up exchanges, they don’t even want patient navigators. Some states just want to squelch the act. Parity is going to get lost in the tussle.  It will be a state by state decision on who follows the parity act.”

But the real politics of mental health will come down to the assertiveness skills of the people receiving care. According to Trepinski, “Patients are going to really have to fight to get treatment.”

SIDEBAR:  Specifically, among a long list of new rights under MHPAEA and Obamacare mandate:

  • If a group plan offers mental health coverage, which 85 percent of employer-based plans do, they must provide completely equal mental health and addiction treatment. Individual coverage must comply by July 1, 2014.
  • That means no more higher co-pays, no more burying the insured in paperwork for strict prior authorization to treatment. Also, there’s no more lower reimbursement rates, no limits on hospital stays despite a physician’s decision that it’s “medically necessary, and a transparent appeals process.

The real, mysogynistic Al Franken–not funny; Or, Dems: run Keith Ellison instead in 2014 Sen. race

23 Feb

I took down the lengthy post — again — for editing, and to give my psyche a break. It’s been hell to revisit and write publicly about acutely personal, harmful and awful instances in my life which Franken and a (very?) few media allies threw in my face.  I want to defend myself. Assault and harassment are never funny, and illegal; as a politician whose Senate committee regulates many sex abuse and harassment laws he should know this. He contacted people involved in my past who set out to hurt, consciously or unconsciously. Together they smeared me with the help of some in the media. Franken actually told people I’ve been a prostitute all these years. Writing is tempting but, for now, I want to make my point since choices for 2014 are bubbling up, and then move on. I have other writing to do. I don’t think my life is different from many, many women and I don’t need special consoling or to be considered a troubled woman. What’s different is I speak up if some man’s — or woman’s — machinations or harassments harm my work or personal life. That’s provoked many people throughout the years, and I’ve survived retaliation. At 51 I thought having my life placed on trial was over. However, that’s not been the case since around 2009, thanks to Franken and his misguided allies.

This post isn’t revenge. Instead, Franken has laughed off his multi-media smear campaign, which means he might do it again. I can’t take that chance. It might be to someone else, man or woman. And, I’m a lifelong Democrat and don’t think he rises to the level we should expect for our Senators, not only because of me. He should go.

Thanks for following with me as I continue to heal and grow from this experience.

OBAMA = Winning in the age of Republicans

1 May

Need I point out the positive impact of having Osama bin Laden gone from this world? How many Right-Ons are deserved by Obama and those brave soldiers who killed him?

It’s tragic that it took death instead of negotiations, but that’s the kind of man bin Laden was.

This is a good night to be an American, and a lover of peace.



10 Apr

The always eloquent Joella Edwards, childhood friend of President Obama. Here she is talking story about Hawaii, Punahou and “Barry.”

Egypt, Wisconsin

18 Feb

Updates on Madison:  http://www.madison.com/index.html

Why journalism? It’s sometimes a public service, as in civic duty. Newspapers used to be able to afford people called stringers to poke around each and every little hamlet’s city council, planning commission and various and sundry government entities. The pettiness alone was worth the effort.

It’s kind of like writing except the kind of life you’re having that particular day can’t automatically get reflected in your words. If I’m having a great life and following stories involving the dregs of society–lobbyists and lawyers usually, who are going to kill us all including the whales–it means sucking it up and picking fights with these people in order to get the story.

Conversely, while slaying dragons I still must suck it up and be polite while doing an upbeat story. Sometimes it’s piling up way past my boots and I get to do a story on a complete ass. That’s just journalism Christmas. It’s not that often.

What I’m trying to say, meaning I buried the lede, is this blog has run its course. I waste my energy listening to cool music videos and writing pithy observations. I started it for myself, to keep writing while I navigated a slump and I’m ending it to go on to something else. Just about anything involving hard currency.

Who rules? Concrete Blonde, Johnette Napolitano, Joni Mitchell and Bette Midler and Cher, Patti Smith, Bruce Springsteen, and John Lennon.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: