The dining room table inside Karie Dove’s rural Bridge Creek home is a patchwork of papers.
Many are written in the dry, technical prose used by insurance companies. The story they tell, however, is one of heartbreak and financial disaster for Dove and her family.
Dove’s 19-year-old daughter suffers from bipolar disorder, a mental illness characterized by extreme shifts between mania and depression. First diagnosed in her mid-teens, she later began abusing drugs and eventually developed psychosis, with hallucinations and delusions.
Months into her illness, her insurance company, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oklahoma, began denying claims for her treatment. That included placement in a residential facility for long-term mental health and substance abuse care, letters from the company show.
Dove and her husband spent their life savings of $65,000 trying to help their daughter.
Dove believes if her daughter had needed inpatient treatment of a physical illness, the insurance claims likely would have been approved.
“I’m one person, and I can’t do a damn thing because they’ve (insurance companies) got all these people working for them,” Karie Dove said. “They will bury you in paperwork when all you really want to do is take care of your kid.”
(Oklahoma Watch is not publishing the daughter’s name despite on-the-record interviews with her; she recently entered a community mental-health treatment program.)
State and federal laws now require “parity” in coverage for mental and physical health care, meaning insurers must offer the same treatment limits and cost-sharing terms for mental health as they do for physical health.
But in many cases mental-health parity is not happening, advocates for the mentally ill say. That means those with mental illness or substance abuse problems go without needed treatment, advocates say.
Traci Cook, executive director of the Oklahoma chapter of the National Alliance for Mental Illness, said she has heard numerous stories of people being denied coverage after parity laws went into effect.
“Basically, if your insurance is not going to pay for it, you’re not going to get the treatment,” Cook said. “That is so sad, but it’s true.”