Learn more about our policy experts.

Media Contacts

Angela Bradbery, Director of Communications
w. (202) 588-7741
c. (202) 503-6768
abradbery@citizen.org, Twitter

Barbara Holzer, Broadcast Manager
w. (202) 588-7716
bholzer@citizen.org

Karilyn Gower, Press Officer
w. (202) 588-7779
kgower@citizen.org

Dan Hockensmith, Communications Officer (Global Trade Watch)
w. (202) 454-5108
dhockensmith@citizen.org

Other Important Links

Press Release Database
Citizen Vox blog
Texas Vox blog
Consumer Law and Policy blog
Energy Vox blog
Eyes on Trade blog
Facebook/publiccitizen

Follow us on Twitter

 

Sept. 6, 2011  

Medical Schools Provide Their Students With Inadequate Coverage for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment

Statement of Dr. Michael Carome, Deputy Director, Public Citizen’s Health Research Group

study published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) shows that medical schools in the U.S. provide their students with poor health insurance coverage for mental health and substance abuse treatment, imperiling the well-being of the nation’s future doctors and their patients. By doing so, medical schools are setting another bad precedent for their students and the rest of the country.

The study, conducted by researchers at the Harvard-affiliated Cambridge Health Alliance in Cambridge, Mass., found that fewer than 22 percent of the 115 medical schools included in the study provide their students with complete coverage – without co-payments or coinsurance – for mental health and substance abuse treatment. A small number of medical schools do not provide any coverage for inpatient mental health or substance abuse treatment.

Public Citizen concludes that the lack of provision of adequate coverage for mental health and substance abuse treatment to medical students is a serious problem for three reasons. First, a significant number of medical students experience mental health disorders, including burnout, depression and suicidal ideation, and substance abuse. Second, limits on coverage for mental health and substance abuse treatment and requirements for co-payments deter many of these students from seeking necessary treatment. Finally, untreated or poorly treated mental health and substance abuse disorders can adversely impact empathy and altruism among students and increase medical errors by doctors in training, placing patients at risk.

Moreover, untreated or poorly treated mental health and substance abuse disorders in medical students are likely to persist as the students advance to residency training and post-training clinical practice. Medical school graduates with persistent mental health and substance abuse ailments may experience impaired clinical judgment and functioning, increasing the chances for medical errors and inappropriate conduct while caring for their patients.

In 1998, Public Citizen’s Health Research Group published a study in JAMA documenting that discipline against physicians for sex-related offenses by state medical boards and federal agencies increased between 1989 and 1996. To the extent that some sex-related offenses, which include seeking sexual favors for drugs, result from physician impairment due to mental health and substance abuse disorders that originated in medical school, such unethical physician conduct is one example of how failure to ensure medical student access to needed care for mental health and substance abuse disorders could result in future harm to patients.

As institutional leaders within the nation’s healthcare system, medical schools should demonstrate their commitment to a healthcare system that ensures all patients with mental health and substance abuse disorders have unimpeded access to all necessary treatments. This can be achieved on a broad scale only by a national single-payer health insurance program that offers comprehensive benefits without co-pays or coinsurance.

In the meantime, medical schools should do a better job of ensuring full access to all necessary healthcare for their students. Public Citizen strongly endorses the recommendation by the authors of the JAMA study that U.S. medical schools move immediately to improve student insurance coverage for mental health and substance abuse disorders.

###
Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit www.citizen.org.

Copyright © 2014 Public Citizen. Some rights reserved. Non-commercial use of text and images in which Public Citizen holds the copyright is permitted, with attribution, under the terms and conditions of a Creative Commons License. This Web site is shared by Public Citizen Inc. and Public Citizen Foundation. Learn More about the distinction between these two components of Public Citizen.


Public Citizen, Inc. and Public Citizen Foundation

 

Together, two separate corporate entities called Public Citizen, Inc. and Public Citizen Foundation, Inc., form Public Citizen. Both entities are part of the same overall organization, and this Web site refers to the two organizations collectively as Public Citizen.

Although the work of the two components overlaps, some activities are done by one component and not the other. The primary distinction is with respect to lobbying activity. Public Citizen, Inc., an IRS § 501(c)(4) entity, lobbies Congress to advance Public Citizen’s mission of protecting public health and safety, advancing government transparency, and urging corporate accountability. Public Citizen Foundation, however, is an IRS § 501(c)(3) organization. Accordingly, its ability to engage in lobbying is limited by federal law, but it may receive donations that are tax-deductible by the contributor. Public Citizen Inc. does most of the lobbying activity discussed on the Public Citizen Web site. Public Citizen Foundation performs most of the litigation and education activities discussed on the Web site.

You may make a contribution to Public Citizen, Inc., Public Citizen Foundation, or both. Contributions to both organizations are used to support our public interest work. However, each Public Citizen component will use only the funds contributed directly to it to carry out the activities it conducts as part of Public Citizen’s mission. Only gifts to the Foundation are tax-deductible. Individuals who want to join Public Citizen should make a contribution to Public Citizen, Inc., which will not be tax deductible.

 

To become a member of Public Citizen, click here.
To become a member and make an additional tax-deductible donation to Public Citizen Foundation, click here.