Obamacare Expands Mental Health Care Coverage
Regardless of what you think of the Obama administration's Affordable Care Act, here's one aspect of the plan that I think almost anyone can appreciate: the Mental Health Parity Act.
The act, which was passed approximately five years ago, requires insurers to cover treatment for mental illness to the same degree as treatment for physical illnesses. Regulations explaining how to implement the requirements were finally made public on Friday, November 8, 2013. Among the rules are stipulations that insurance companies can't charge higher copayments or deductibles for mental health treatment; they also can't place limits on the length of mental health care.
Hallelujah! This is a monumental victory for persons experiencing mental illness and their families. The parity act represents the biggest expansion of mental health care in the United States in more than a generation. The new regulations are thought to increase or protect mental health coverage for over 60 million Americans.
If you haven't noticed, our historically dismal performance when it comes to adequately treating people with mental health problems has led to higher, more dangerous workloads for law enforcement and emergency room personnel and a ripple effect that impacts families, workplaces, and communities. In fact, the Obama administration cites the recent increase in mass violence as an impetus for enacting the Mental Health Parity Act so that disturbed individuals can get the help they need before they resort to hurting themselves or others. Granted, while only a very small percentage of people experiencing mental health challenges actually become violent, those responsible for the mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the Washington Navy Yard, the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and Virginia Tech were all found to have a history of mental illness.
It's important to remember that people experiencing mental illness are much more likely to become victims of violence instead of perpetrators. Still, the fact that a history of mental illness - and oftentimes, untreated mental illness - is a common denominator among these shooters makes one take pause. If these individuals had received proper treatment, could any of these horrific incidents been avoided?
I applaud two different administrations for this accomplishment - the Bush administration for signing the Mental Health Parity Act into law in 2008 and the Obama administration for writing the necessary rules to actually implement the law this year. It took both administrations to get this done; now my hope is that insurers and mental health providers will be able to put this law into practice as smoothly and quickly as possible. That way, the millions of Americans in need of mental health care can finally receive the help they deserve.
Wayne, A. (November 10, 2013). Regulations expand mental care coverage. Chicago Tribune (Online Kindle version).