The Affordable Care Act: What’s New in Mental Health Coverage?

By Asia Adams

“Obamacare”…It’s a phrase we hear all too often.  The overarching goal is to expand insurance coverage, improve quality of services, & make healthcare more accessible overall.   Now, while this all sounds great in theory, what does it really mean? And what are its’ implications for mental healthcare consumers?

The law is expansive, to say the least; 974 pages, addressing everything from health quality measures, to improved design of emergency care.  It’s far too lengthy for any ordinary person to sift through, much less fully understand.  However, it is important to note that mental health has recently become one of the “10 Essential Benefits” that are required in those insurance policies which are sold on the federal health exchange. With more emphasis being placed on the importance of mental health, some big changes will be happening in terms of coverage within this population.  For starters:

  • Health insurance plans are not able to apply yearly OR lifetime dollar limits on coverage of essential health benefits, whereas they often did in the past.
  • In Florida alone, $5,887,000 in grants have been awarded in order to increase behavioral health screening and push for integration with primary health.  More specifically, this money goes toward “expanding suicide prevention activities, screening for substance abuse disorders, and integrating primary care services into publicly funded community mental health, as well as other community-based behavioral health settings”.
  • A pre-existing condition may no longer be used as grounds for denial of an individual’s future insurance policy.

While the Affordable Care Act still has much room for improvement, the recent provisions regarding mental healthcare are certainly a big move in the right direction for those affected.