Fuentes: Barriers to mental health care cost our state millions annually



Florida faces a mental health crisis that does not discriminate and causes irreversible harm to some of our most vulnerable community members. Whether you have struggled with your mental health or seen it affect a friend, family member, or colleague – this crisis impacts us all. Unfortunately, too many individuals face obstacles to getting the care they need, including stigma, lack of awareness surrounding mental health, and barriers to accessing mental health treatments.

Having witnessed how mental disorders can impact individuals’ futures and families, I have long felt compelled to elevate this discussion among the business community.

A recent survey found that 65% of business owners struggle with anxiety and over half struggle with depression. In Florida specifically, 17 percent of residents struggle with a mental illness, and the mental health hospitalization rate for Florida Hispanics has risen since 2004.

These concerning findings prompted the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to look at how Florida’s declining mental health affects not just our communities and families but our economy. In partnership with reThink Brain Health Florida, we commissioned a study by the Regional Economic Consulting Group to examine how a key barrier to mental health care – step therapy practices – impacts our state’s workforce and economic growth.

Step therapy, also known as ‘Fail First,’ is a common insurance practice used to determine which prescription drugs or medical treatments will be covered by insurance companies. As a part of step therapy, patients with serious mental illnesses must take insurer-preferred medications before they can receive coverage for the medication recommended by their physician.

This study found that Florida’s step therapy practices for Major Depressive Disorder patients cost state taxpayers over $271.5 million annually. That includes $238.8 million in workplace costs due to missed workdays and lost workforce; $29.3 million in medical costs, including pharmaceutical, inpatient, and emergency room costs; and $3.4 million in suicide costs. Just in Florida’s Medicaid-managed care program, the cost of step therapy is a loss of $52.3 million.

This study illustrates the critical economic and workforce impact in our state when Floridians can’t access the right medications in a timely manner. This isn’t just an issue that impacts patients. It impacts business owners, employers, workers, and taxpayers.

We are fortunate to have innovators developing a meaningful solution to address Florida’s growing mental health problem through proposed legislation, SB 112 and HB 183, filed by Senator Gayle Harrell and Representative Karen Gonzalez Pittman. This legislation will help Medicaid beneficiaries with serious mental illnesses bypass step therapy protocols and access the treatments they need when they need them.

As we continue to address the mental health crisis and make Florida the number one state where families, communities, and businesses can thrive, I hope that Florida legislators will help take an important step forward by supporting SB 112 and HB 183.

Julio Fuentes is President of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

The opinions expressed by letter or opinion writers are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of AlachuaChronicle.com. Letters may be submitted to info@alachuachronicle.com and are published at the discretion of the editor.

  • Okay, that is HIS opinion. MY opinion is that poor mental health goes hand in hand with the unlawful and ridiculous standards the left has set to allow millions of unqualified aliens to remain the country. Added to that is the growing welfare state that takes responsibility for self away and replaces it with no self worth, no ambition, no respect for society and an attitude of me, me, me.

  • >