Cover Story

At age 15, doctors diagnosed Marley Prunty-Lara with bipolar disorder, yet a shortage of mental health providers in her home state of South Dakota forced her family to seek mental health treatment out of state. After discovering that their insurance policy did not cover these out-of-network costs, Prunty-Lara's parents took out a second mortgage on their home to pay her medical bills.

"As any parent does, my mom wanted a life for her child with opportunity," Prunty-Lara recalls. "Yet, like millions of parents across this country facing a child's critical need for mental health treatment, she discovered the arbitrary barriers to needed care in her insurance policy."

Thanks to her parents' sacrifice and the treatment she received, Prunty-Lara is now a thriving young woman. In May, she graduated from the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities, and she's pursuing a master's degree in public policy at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis. She continues to manage her disorder through a combination of medication and psychotherapy, but she often wonders what her life would be like had her parents not been able to find a way to pay for her care.

To make sure other cash-strapped families dealing with mental illness can get needed treatment, Prunty-Lara and her mother have spent the past four years traveling to Washington, D.C., asking lawmakers to require that companies provide equal physical and mental health benefits coverage.

"I think how different my life would be had I not had access to treatment, and it's just heartening to know that other people will now have that chance to succeed," Prunty-Lara says.

—A. Novotney