1/31/2017 by Share Your Story

This insurance practice causes a downward spiral for patients living with mental health challenges


Non medical switching can cause a downward spiral for mental health patients. Find out why patients are working to end this devastating policy.

State Spotlight: Non medical switching creating access barrier in Tennessee

Patients in Tennessee living with mental illness are facing barriers to accessing treatments that allow them to enjoy productive lives.

Nicole Shaheen of the National Alliance of Mental Illness Tennessee writes in The Commercial Appeal that health insurance companies are forcing stable patients off their medication in an apparent effort to cut costs. In Tennessee alone, more than one million patients struggle with mental illness, according to NAMI Tennessee.

“Treatment advances and community support are allowing Tennesseans living with mental illness an unprecedented opportunity to beat old stigmas and to live happy, productive and fulfilling lives that enrich our society,” Shaheen explains. “However, many are now at risk of losing access to the medications that are keeping their health stable.”

What does “losing access” mean? According to NAMI Tennessee, the culprit is an obscure practice known as non medical switching. As we’ve explained before, insurance companies use this tactic to force cheaper medications on stable patients. This is troubling enough for any patient, but can have especially devastating consequences for patients with mental or behavioral health challenges.

Non medical switching causes downward spiral for mental health patients

Even a few days adjusting to a new medication can force patients to miss work or be absent from school, exacerbating the underlying mental health issue. NAMI Tennessee cites several examples of students that missed classes and, ultimately, were forced to withdraw from school.

“Like anyone with a chronic condition, it can take years for people living with mental illness, from schizophrenia to depression, to find a treatment that works and with minimal side effects,” Shaheen notes. “That’s because the psycho-pharmaceutical medications used to treat mental illness are complex and not easily interchangeable.”

“A medication that works well for one person may not work for another — a primary reason why physicians, not health plans, should determine the course of care.”

We couldn’t agree more!

Quote of the Day: Everyone is affected by mental illness

“The face of mental illness looks like your next door neighbor, or the homecoming queen. Tennesseans living with mental illness and other potentially debilitating conditions deserve to live a productive and fulfilling life, free of unwarranted medical complications caused in the name of cost-savings. No insurance company should have the right to take that away.”

— Nicole Shaheen, board secretary for the National Alliance of Mental Illness Tennessee, and founder of the J.C. Runyon Foundation

Community Spotlight: J.C. Runyon Foundation

While some insurance companies are constructing barriers, our community is working to provide help and support for young people struggling with mental and behavioral health challenges.

The J.C. Runyon Foundation provides financial assistance to students who have spent their emotional and financial resources overcoming behavioral health issues. Based in Germantown, Tennessee, the non-profit has provided numerousscholarships to young people who have experienced hardship and are ready to #LiveYourNextChapter.

To learn more about the organization’s scholarship program, visit their website.


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