The Fight To Get Mental Health Care Covered by Insurance
What's Next for Mental Health
By David Shern, Ph.D., President and CEO, Mental Health America
As a New Year approaches, two important developments are helping to shape the future course of mental health.
On January 1, the federal mental health parity law becomes effective for all health plans. The law will broadly outlaw insurance discrimination against Americans with mental health and substance use conditions in employer-sponsored health plans. A milestone, the law recognizes how integral mental health is to overall health and should improve access to care for millions.
The passage of the parity law has also elevated mental health in the ongoing health reform debate. The bills now under discussion require that new plans include mental health and substance use services as essential components of health insurance. They require parity in coverage. The legislation also improves access to preventative services. With some luck, a health reform overhaul could be on the President's desk by the end of January.
Parity and a health reform bill can help address the enormous challenges we face in assuring that people with mental health and substance use conditions receive care. Just recently, it was reported that over fifty percent of children with mental health conditions aren't receiving services Other surveys demonstrate the toll the economic downturn has taken on the mental health of Americans, driving up rates of depression and anxiety as well as a likely increase in the suicide rate. And we hear daily about the mental health problems experienced by veterans and servicemen and women and their families. We are not adequately meeting these needs. We must do more.
Mental Health America will begin its second century of service next year committed to meeting these challenges and helping all Americans live mentally healthier lives. From working to educate the public about the signs and symptoms of mental and substance use conditions, to assure access to effective care, to end discrimination against persons with these conditions and to provide the tools that help individuals manage threats to their mental health, we want every person to have the ability to live life well and enjoy a productive future.
The most important problems our nation faces involve mental health. We have the knowledge, tools and science to address many of them. Now we have to deploy our considerable assets in prevention, detection, diagnosis and treatment to get the job done.
Following decades of rigorous scientific work, we now know that mental illnesses are diseases that impact the functioning of the brain that can be reliably diagnosed and effectively treated. We possess the knowledge and techniques that can help millions of Americans manage threats to their mental health, stay resilient and live healthy and productive lives. Now we must work to make these research based interventions available to everyone as well as continue to more fully understand the development and treatment of all mental illnesses.
We must give voice to those not being heard and provide a platform so every person can share their stories and the reality and power of recovery. We must build on parity and end discrimination.
We must ensure that mental health is treated with the same urgency as other medical conditions and recognized as the stepping stone to full, productive and healthy lives.
We won't stop until we achieve these goals. In many important respects, America's future depends on it.