Affordable Care Act to improve access to mental health care services

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    Mental health

    As many as 25 percent of U.S. residents suffer from a diagnosable mental health condition annually, but less than half receive treatment (Shutterstock photo)

    With the recent school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, much focus has been place on the need for earlier recognition and better treatment of mental health issues.

    As some of the most difficult medical underlying conditions to recognize, mental health issues in the United States often go undiagnosed, and public education in the field of mental health is considered lacking when compared to other medical arenas.

    In fact, NBC News reports that every year, more than a quarter of individuals in the United States suffer from a diagnosable mental issue, but less than half of those cases receive treatment.

    The Affordable Care Act (ACA) goes a long way toward ensuring mental health care is accessible to millions of U.S. residents, and in light of the recent shooting, President Barack Obama told the public, “I will use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens — from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators — in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this.”

    Among the insurance coverage increases brought about by the Affordable Care Act, mental care benefits, as outlined by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, include:

    • Insurance packages will be required to include substance abuse and mental care coverage, including treatment for disorders, medication, rehabilitation, habilitation services, screening services, and preventative services

      mental health

      Under the Affordable Care ACt, mental health screenings will be linked with annual physical examinations (Shutterstock photo)

    • Introduction of community-based outreach and education programs for mental health
    • Expanded preventative services which include annual wellness screenings
    • Create ways to combine annual general health screenings with mental screenings
    • Utilize grants and Medicaid reimbursements for the creation of health homes designed for individuals with chronic mental health issues or substance abuse problems
    • Grants will be made for school-based mental health centers
    • Enhance community-based mental health programs and home-based mental health programs for people with long-term needs
    • Create mental health education and training grants for mental health professionals as well as special loan repayment plans and primary care residency training
    • Depression screenings without co-payment or out-of-pocket costs
    • An allotment of $35 million for integrated mental and general health, $10 million dedicated to recruiting and training mental health professionals, and $53 million toward suicide, screening and mental surveillance programs
    • Inclusion of mental health benefits in the Medicaid expansion

    The provisions for mental health within the Affordable Care Act are the second major attempt by the Obama administration to address the issue in the country.

    In 2008, officials introduced the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA). This law prohibited group insurance plans—the plans most commonly offered by employers—from limiting benefits and increasing the premiums for individuals with general medical or surgical needs. The Affordable Care Act expands on this law by preventing mental care coverage to be separated out as a different premium from general care.

    “For example, a plan may not apply separate deductibles for treatment related to mental health or substance use disorders and medical or surgical benefits—they must be calculated as one limit. MHPAEA applies to employers with 50 or more workers whose group health plan chooses to offer mental health or substance use disorder benefits,” wrote the Department of Health and Human Services in a press release.

    According to experts, improved access to mental health services, allowing people to seek help if they should need it, is not the only step toward preventing tragedies like the one in Connecticut. By including mental health screenings in annual wellness visits, individuals and parents who are unaware of a possible mental health disorder can receive treatment before the situation progresses.

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