Many people don’t know that mental-health parity is the law. This means health-insurance plans must provide the same coverage for treatment of mental illness and addiction as for physical ailments. Congress passed legislation to this effect in 1996 and strengthened requirements in 2008, but it took the enactment of the Affordable Care Act to truly deliver on the promise.
Before the ACA, a person with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder couldn’t obtain private health insurance in most states, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Today, no one with a preexisting condition — including mental illness — can be denied coverage. Whereas many health plans once excluded behavioral-health services — i.e., treatment for mental-health conditions and addiction — they are now an “essential benefit” required by law.
And there are other improvements being driven by the ACA. Today, mental-health screenings are taking place as part of regular checkups. Care coordination is helping patients and their doctors put together integrated care plans. And technologies are making it possible to access mental-health resources from a smartphone.
This is vital because more than 50 percent of Americans will develop a mental illness or disorder during their lifetimes. That’s why former congressman and mental-health advocate Patrick J. Kennedy recommends that everyone get a “checkup from the neck up.” Mental-health screenings save lives. And they’re covered — so talk to your health plan or your doctor.
One solution the National Alliance on Mental Illness has advocated is to expand Medicaid as allowed under the ACA. Virginia recently voted to do so, joining Maryland and the District. Now very-low-income families throughout our region will have far greater access to mental-health care.
This hard-won victory demonstrates what’s possible when we come together to protect and build on the ACA. Good mental health is an essential component of wellness. Everyone deserves access to high-quality care, and we should all make use of the coverage we have.
If you or a loved one needs help and doesn’t know how to get it, contact the NAMI HelpLine at 800-950-6264.