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The Affordable Care Act and Mental Health

The Affordable Care Act and Mental Health

America’s inadequate mental health care was thrust into the spotlight in 2013 following the stabbing of Virginia State Sen. Creigh Deeds by his mentally ill son. The younger Deeds, who committed suicide after the attack, had undergone a psychiatric evaluation but was turned away by a local hospital due to a lack of space. Mental health experts say that the shortage of adequate services, as well as historically poor coverage by private insurers, has left millions of mentally ill individuals without the resources they need.

The Affordable Care Act provides one of the largest expansions of mental health and substance use disorder coverage in a generation, making coverage of mental health and drug treatment an essential health benefits that all insurers must offer. It comes at a time when need for mental health services is on the rise. Many Americans are dealing with the emotional fallout of the recession, veterans and their families are struggling with PTSD and returning to civilian life, older Americans are confronting growing rates of depression, and suicide claims the lives of 30,000 Americans each year.

New protections under the ACA require that plans on insurance marketplaces cover mental health and substance use disorder services, expanding access to benefits to 62 million Americans. Because of the law, health plans must now cover—at no cost—preventive services like depression screening for adults and behavioral assessments for children. And starting in 2014, most plans won’t be able to deny coverage or charge more due to pre-existing mental illnesses.

The number of people seeking coverage has skyrocketed and is expected to grow even more as consumers have access to insurance and learn that mental health treatment is covered under Obamacare. Important changes to mental health treatment accessibility for millions of people include:

  • Insurance plans must now offer parity of mental and physical health coverage. The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equality Act passed by President George W. Bush in 1999, which required insurers to provide mental health care coverage comparable to physical health care coverage, went largely unenforced until the passage of the ACA.
  • There are limits on out-of-pocket spending for mental health services. The ACA limits total out-of-pocket spending to $6,350 for individuals and $12,700 for families for “medically necessary treatment.”
  • Insurers must cover prescription drugs for mental health care. The specifics vary by plan, with some insurers offering different types of coverage for different types of drugs.

Westside Behavioral Care (WBC) is improving access to mental health treatment by making it fast and easy to find a therapist and make an appointment. WBC is a network of 23 licensed therapists with offices across the Denver metropolitan area who treat a wide variety of mental health issues. In anticipation of the passage of the ACA, WBC developed an advanced searchable database and appointment scheduling system that enables those seeking treatment to search based on important criteria, including a therapist’s location, treatment specialties and insurance plans accepted.
Appointments can be made and confirm in real time.

Westside Behavioral Care is seeing an increase in website visitors and patients who choose to utilize the online scheduling system as a direct result of the ACA, as more and more people are learning about the mental health benefits that they now have access to.

Obamacare is leading this country in the right direction, but there are still big gaps. Westside Behavior Care is doing its part to fill some of the gaps by educating people about mental health and making access to care affordable and accessible.

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