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Newtown shooting highlights mental health benefits gaps

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HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut lawmakers on Tuesday began reviewing questions about mental health care that have come up in the wake of the deadly Newtown school massacre.

Adam Lanza, a 20-year-old gunman, shot 20 first-graders and six teachers to death Dec. 14.

Newtown, Conn., is a 49-minute drive from Hartford, Conn., which has traditionally been an unofficial capital of the U.S. insurance industry.

Prosecutors have not yet released details on Lanza’s mental state, but two task forces created by Gov. Daniel P. Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly are looking at mental health services policies as well as gun violence and school safety.

Slightly more than 100 people signed up to testify Tuesday. About 1,200 signed up Monday for a hearing on gun laws.

State lawmakers were told that individuals with private insurance have much more limited access to services than people using government insurance.

Patricia Rehmer, commissioner of the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, said there are limits on the number of services that can be used annually, which can create problems for families.

“I am often called, especially by parents of young adults who are now keeping their children — young adults — on their insurance until they’re 26, who need the services that we provide,” Rehmer said of her agency, which serves only people without private insurance.

“They need case management. They need supportive housing. They need interactions with their peers,” she said. “Those are things that private insurance companies do not pay for.”

Nelba Marquez-Greene, mother of 6-year-old Sandy Hook victim Ana Marquez-Greene and a licensed marriage and family therapist, said she hopes Connecticut will become a national model to improve its mental health system. In written testimony read by her sister on Tuesday, Marquez-Greene suggested that exposing families to trained mental health professionals to de-stigmatize mental health access and treatment. She also called for the state to fully fund programs that provide support to parents.

“My Ana Grace was murdered. She was six years old,” Marquez-Greene wrote. “She was one of 26 innocent people massacred senselessly. This tragedy could have been prevented.”

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