Texas Reporter Reflects on National Health Coverage Fellowship
August 20, 2010
By Jason Roberson
I’m gazing out the window on an evening flight back to Dallas from seat 12-C, wondering how best to retell my fellowship experience to my wife, children, editors and co-workers.
Thanks to the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, I had been away for nine days in Boston, studying at the feet of the country’s foremost health care experts, getting tips on upcoming trends and recapturing the passion of being a health care reporter.
Thanks to my wife, I was able to leave her with a 5-week-old daughter and a rambunctious 2-year-old son to chase after, while I enjoyed buffets between sessions and screamed from Row C, Seat 3 at Fenway Park watching the Red Sox beat the Angels.
To my employers, I’d tell them the good news: We’re on the right track. Our coverage of rising health care costs, daily struggles of the uninsured and forward-thinking health delivery models is as aggressive as any media outlet in the country.
The Dallas Morning News consistently devotes front-page space to explaining how health care overhaul will impact Texans. We haven’t shied away from reminding readers we rank first in percentage of uninsured residents, or that Texas spends $104 billion a year on Medicare and Medicaid with spending increasing 7 percent annually, or that the Dartmouth Atlas on Health Care now ranks Dallas first in the state for Medicare spending among large cities, well ahead of Fort Worth and Houston.
Unfortunately, I also would have to tell them the fellowship revealed some holes in our coverage, namely mental health coverage.
We took a bus to McLean Hospital — part of the Harvard medical system and one of the country’s oldest mental hospitals. Dr. Joe Gold, the chief medical officer, said it’s often difficult getting health insurers to cover much-needed mental health treatment. He challenged us to question whether there is true mental health parity under the law.
Dr. Roya Ostavar, an expert on adolescent borderline personality disorders, gave me a tour of McLean’s Pathways Academy for children with autism and Asperger’s. Ostavar spoke of the challenge parents are having in getting insurers to cover sensory processing disorders.
I would tell my wife, who also is black, that mental health is a bigger problem than we realize within our black communities, and most other ethnic minority communities. The fellowship charged me with a sense of responsibility to better report on mental health problems and treatments.
I and the other 10 fellows also spent a night on the streets with crews from Boston’s Health Care for the Homeless foundation. Some of the fellows drove in a van with doctors who treated men and women on the streets and under bridges. Others, including me, were stationed at the group’s new multi-million-dollar medical respite, designated for the homeless who are not sick enough for the hospital, but too sick to be left unattended on the streets.
It’s now 10:40 p.m. Air Tran’s Flight 523 is safely landing in the Lone Star state.
I’m actually eager to get started on the “honey-do” list my wife compiled, partly as pay-back for leaving her alone with an infant and toddler. But I’m also rejuvenated and excited to continue our newspaper’s excellent work, while working harder to give mental health its due prominence in our pages.