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Mental health, addiction services must fit into reform

Health care reform has become one of the most urgent and important issues that will impact ours and many future generations.

We must not lose sight of the fact that change, though sometimes uncomfortable, is necessary and that change must be balanced in order for it to be effective. That means we may all have to give up a little as we strive to have a seat at the table. But real health reform must be comprehensive and include not just health, but mental health, addictive and substance abuse disorders.

The facts are:

*Mental health and addictive disorders are the leading cause of combined death and disability for women and the second leading cause for men.

*According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, in 2008 fewer than one in eight people addicted to alcohol or other drugs received any treatment.

*Mental health and addiction annually cost $171 billion in lost productivity to American businesses.

The Whole Health Campaign (www.wholehealthcampaign.org) is a coalition of more than 107 organizations in the mental health and addiction fields, with the goal of improving the health and quality of life for millions suffering from mental illness and addiction. The other guiding principles of the Whole Health Campaign include:

*Ensuring that health reform policies promote individual and family recovery from mental illness and addictions as integral to overall health.

*Investing in America's future through prevention, early intervention, treatment recovery support and research on mental illness and addiction. This should include evidence-based standards of care that use the best research and effectiveness and cost effectiveness to guide care.

Integration of care for mental health and addiction into all efforts of health reform will alleviate the burdensome costs of mental illness and addiction on employers, public health services and the criminal justice system. Primary and preventative care, such as the emergence of the medical home and other wellness programs and employee assistance programs, must be responsive to this same model of integrated care.

Yes, all of these reforms will be costly in the short run. Thus, it is paramount that health reform leadership, our elected representatives, look at financial, payment and reimbursement reform as critical to positive implementation.

Finally, we will need to continue to ensure we have competent and committed professionals who have integrated care delivery in their sights. Only with all of these efforts can real health care reform be realized.

Ellen Grant has more than 25 years of health and behavioral health experience, including service as commissioner of Erie County Mental Health, CEO of Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center and vice president of Blue Cross-Blue Shield.

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