The 2010 Affordable Care Act included a large expansion for substance abuse and mental health coverage. That law required new insurance policies to provide mental health treatment as one of 10 essential benefits. Despite this, millions of Americans still do not receive the mental health care they need. Experts in the field attribute this lack of coverage to spikes in the rate of heroin overdoses, prescription drug abuse, and other problems.
The Insurance Problem: Why Mental Health Falls Through the Cracks
In a given year, nearly 1 in 5 Americans experience some form of mental illness. This might include substance abuse problems, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder. However, just a fraction of these individuals get professional treatment.
One of the reasons that people with mental health problems fail to get appropriate care is that there is still stigma in our society about struggling with mental illness. For people combating addiction, this stigma can be a powerful deterrent from seeking help. Addiction is often viewed as a problem of willpower, with those experiencing drug dependent simply “not trying hard enough” to quit. In reality, our best scientific evidence shows that certain people are at greater risk of developing addiction for a variety of biological and environmental reasons.
Opiate dependence, such as prescription drug abuse or heroin use, is particularly stigmatized. Furthermore, many insurance plans do not offer coverage for the types of substance abuse treatments that work best. For example, several sessions of outpatient therapy may be covered, but more specialized and intensive treatments may not. In particular, coverage for state-of-the-art, scientifically validated treatments like rapid opiate detox are not covered by most insurance plans.
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Poor Mental Health Coverage Has Far-Ranging Consequences
The lack of high-quality mental health coverage in this country has led to significant problems for individuals and for society at large. Particularly worrisome is the recent jump in use of prescription opiates and heroin. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heroin-related deaths quadrupled from 2000 through 2013. A similar jump was seen in the number of deaths related to abuse of prescription opiate medications.
Unfortunately, even the people who want to get help for their opiate dependence often cannot get the care they deserve. Without a commitment from insurance companies to cover important treatments, too many of these people slip through the cracks. In addition to increasing rates of overdose, drug dependence leads to lost work hours, conflict with spouses and families, potentially serious effects on physical health, and a range of other mental health problems.
A Bipartisan Effort to Expand Coverage for Substance Abuse Treatment
The poor coverage for substance abuse and mental health treatment may soon change, if U.S. Representative Tim Murphy has anything to do with it. Murphy is a clinical psychologist who has seen firsthand the problems that poor mental health coverage can cause for patients and their families. Now, he and other high-ranking members of Congress are calling for a bipartisan push to expand coverage of substance use and mental health treatment in the United States.
Called the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, the bill is expected to gain support from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress. The bill calls for the federal government to allocate resources to increase the number of hospital beds available for mental health patients, expand the number of mental health providers, and fund research for treatment of opiate dependence and other mental health conditions. This much-needed support will help patients and families receive the support they need to maintain a healthy, sober lifestyle.
Mental Health By the Numbers. National Alliance on Mental Illness. Retrieved on July 28, 2015.
Drug-poisoning Deaths Involving Heroin: United States, 2000–2013. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved on July 28, 2015.