Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Is there no virtue among us?

The difficult and heartbreaking public discussion continues over how to unravel the Newtown catastrophe and respond effectively.  Everyone has ideas. Some of the ideas make sense to me, others do not, including the notion that increased regulation of mental health insurance benefits is a necessary part of the response. 

More generally, politicians seem to think  - and exhort the public to believe – that additional regulation or a new law is always the remedy for every problem.  I think that mind-set needs examination.

Here’s an example of what I mean:  In the Greater NY section of the WSJ this morning there’s an 18-paragraph article entitled “Conn. Ponders Mental Health.” [$link at this time] The article reports on progress of the state’s commission on mental health, appointed after Newtown.  It observes that Connecticut “is moving toward sweeping changes” to its mental health laws including additional insurance mandates.

This movement is happening despite reported testimony of the chief psychiatrist at Hartford Hospital and a State Commission member, that because of privacy laws, it is impossible to ascertain whether the Newtown shooter was ever treated for mental illness and therefore “with nothing confirmed it is really impossible to say how changes in the mental health system could address his specific circumstances.”

As usual, telling information is buried at the end of the article.  In the 16th paragraph we read:  “Experts say the mental health parity laws [intended to force insurers to equalize benefits for mental health and physical health] aren’t adequately enforced.”  In the 17th paragraph, an attorney notes that “we are supposed to have [mental health] parity, but it just doesn’t seem to play out in practice.”  Is there any reason the public can expect that new laws or new regulations will be more strictly enforced?  No.  There is no reason.

Yet our politicians propose sweeping changes to mental health laws?  Go figure.

In a better world, more of our so-called leaders would take the time to think rather than rush to enact even more laws that will be poorly-enforced and accomplish little (aside from attaching their names to bravely-titled, wordy, but ultimately worthless documents.)

So what’s to be done?  I wish I knew.  But I believe this is as true now as when it was first said more than 200 years ago:

“Is there no virtue among us? If there be not, we are in a wretched situation. No theoretical checks-no form of government can render us secure. To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea”

--James Madison
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