I’m sure many of you have noticed that I have been absent over the past several weeks. In mid-May I was hospitalized for severe depression. I want to share one thing that I discovered since my hospitalization: the stigma against mental illness is alive and well and instituted in disability insurers like Aflac®. I am putting aside my embarrassment in letting the world know about my illness. I wrote the following to Aflac and hope that all who read this decide to share it. I also urge all of you to contact Aflac and your elected officials at all levels and let them know this is unacceptable. It isn’t a conservative issue, it’s a human issue and it affects more people than you realize.
Daniel P. Amos
Chairman and CEO
Paul S. Amos II
President and COO
1932 Wynton Road
Columbus, Georgia 31999
I am writing regarding the issue of Aflac’s refusal to cover mental health treatment in any of its policies. For the last two years I have been the policyholder of three Aflac policies: Specified Event; Accident; and Short Term Disability. In May of this year, I was hospitalized for 8 days with a diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder, severe and recurring. After my hospitalization, I was placed in an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) for an additional 4 weeks. I face regular therapy for some time to come. All of this has and will cost me thousands of dollars despite having health insurance. I had hoped that the policies, specifically the Specified Event and Short Term Disability policies, would help out with the expenses that I am now facing. I was very wrong.
Sometime around May 27th I called Aflac Customer Service and asked about what I needed to do to submit a claim for my hospitalization and short term disability. After providing the reason why I was hospitalized, I was advised that none of Aflac’s policies cover any events of mental illness. I have paid premiums for these policies for two solid years and relied on the idea that if I was hospitalized or disabled, for whatever reason, Aflac would be there to help. You weren’t.
The duck lied.
Are you aware that mental illness is considered a disability under Federal Law? The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a disability under the ADA as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual” (emphasis added). If you’d like to see the text of the ADA, as amended, please go here: http://www.ada.gov/pubs/adastatute08.htm
A few more tidbits for you from the ADA to consider:
1. The law was passed because Congress found a few interesting things (the following are directly quoted from the ADA):
a. physical or mental disabilities in no way diminish a person’s right to fully participate in all aspects of society, yet many people with physical or mental disabilities have been precluded from doing so because of discrimination; others who have a record of a disability or are regarded as having a disability also have been subjected to discrimination (emphasis added);
b. historically, society has tended to isolate and segregate individuals with disabilities, and, despite some improvements, such forms of discrimination against individuals with disabilities continue to be a serious and pervasive social problem (emphasis added);
c. unlike individuals who have experienced discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, religion, or age, individuals who have experienced discrimination on the basis of disability have often had no legal recourse to redress such discrimination;
d. individuals with disabilities continually encounter various forms of discrimination, including outright intentional exclusion, the discriminatory effects of architectural, transportation, and communication barriers, overprotective rules and policies, failure to make modifications to existing facilities and practices, exclusionary qualification standards and criteria, segregation, and relegation to lesser services, programs, activities, benefits, jobs, or other opportunities (emphasis added);
e. census data, national polls, and other studies have documented that people with disabilities, as a group, occupy an inferior status in our society, and are severely disadvantaged socially, vocationally, economically, and educationally (emphasis added);
f. the continuing existence of unfair and unnecessary discrimination and prejudice denies people with disabilities the opportunity to compete on an equal basis and to pursue those opportunities for which our free society is justifiably famous, and costs the United States billions of dollars in unnecessary expenses resulting from dependency and non-productivity;
g. in enacting the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), Congress intended that the Act “provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities” and provide broad coverage; and
h. in enacting the ADA, Congress recognized that physical and mental disabilities in no way diminish a person’s right to fully participate in all aspects of society, but that people with physical or mental disabilities are frequently precluded from doing so because of prejudice, antiquated attitudes, or the failure to remove societal and institutional barriers (emphasis added).
I’m sure you’re well aware that parity laws have now forbidden health insurance companies from capping, minimizing and/or refusing to cover mental health treatment. While I realize that you are not a health insurance company, I see no logical reason why your policies should be held to a different standard. They also deal with issues of health and disability. It is discriminatory to refuse to provide coverages to the mentally ill, and it contributes to the mindset that mental illness, unlike other illnesses, is something shameful.
Mental illness is a disease of the brain. It’s no different than heart disease, cancer, or some other form of physical illness. Treating those with mental illness as something to be hidden, shameful or to be feared does nothing for the patient except make seeking treatment taboo. It’s been allowed to go on for much longer than it should, despite laws like the ADA.
“Globally, more than 350 million people have depression, a mental disorder that prevents people from functioning well. But because of the stigma that is often still attached to depression, many fail to acknowledge that they are ill and do not seek treatment.” (from World Health Organization, 2012 http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/notes/2012/mental_health_day_20121009/en/)
Do you know that I’ve struggled with depression for so long I have no idea what “normal” really is? Most of the people I work or socialize with have no idea why I was hospitalized. Why? Because of the fear that they will somehow think less of me for having a mental illness: because of stigma. That Aflac and other similar insurers are allowed to perpetuate this stigma by refusing to provide coverage for mental illness and disability is disgusting.
I am seriously considering canceling my Aflac policies. Aflac failed me when I needed it the most. The duck definitely lied and maybe embarrassment will force you to recognize that your policies pertaining to mental illness are discriminatory and pathetic.
Sincerely and with utter disgust,