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Monday, Oct. 28, 2013

Understanding Obamacare: Mental Health Services Must Be Covered

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Question: How will mental health coverage improve under Obamacare?

Answer: For many years, our health system failed to adequately provide mental health and substance-abuse coverage for the vast majority of citizens. Fortunately, Obamacare has now made mental health parity the law for millions of Americans. Prior to the Affordable Care Act, mental health parity laws—that is, the rule that requires insurance companies to offer mental health coverage and offer it at the same levels as other treatments—were not universal. These laws usually applied only to large employers, while individual plans and many small group plans were not required to cover mental health.

Obamacare requires important changes that will make this type of coverage universal, a victory not just for health care, but for fairness. Mental health, and substance-abuse coverage, must now be offered by all plans—individual, small group or large group plans. That means that roughly 62 million Americans will now have that guarantee; 30 million uninsured Americans will now gain access to coverage that offers mental health and 32 million will have better insurance that didn’t cover it before.

Overall, this coverage is much better. Health plans must cover preventive services like depression screenings and doctor visits with no out-of-pocket costs. And starting in 2014, insurance companies can no longer deny coverage or charge more for people with pre-existing mental health or substance-abuse issues such as anxiety, OCD or bipolar disorder. Mental health disorders were second only to hypertension as the most common pre-existing condition that insurance companies discriminated against before Obamacare. Now the law is on your side.

The Shepherd Express and Citizen Action of Wisconsin will answer questions about the Affordable Care Act during its implementation. Got a question? Email editor@shepex.com.

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