Good afternoon, readers!
It’s no secret to most of us that securing quality mental health care can be frustrating, if not seemingly impossible. In 2008, the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act was passed, which basically ensured that insurance companies were not allowed to discriminate against mental health care when offering coverage–benefits for these services had to be more or less equal to the benefits offered for standard medical and surgical care. (You can read more about the act here!)
I was nineteen years old when the act was passed, and it was a huge moment in my life. But things are still not great; many insurance plans have extremely strict limits on the number of counseling visits allowed per year (the insurance plans I’ve had in the last ten years have placed a limit of twelve appointments per calendar year), and there is still much to be done before we can honestly say that mental health care is equal, in the eyes of insurers, to other types of medical care.
For one thing, enforcement of the parity law tends to leave much to be desired. The task force, which formed in March of this year, has identified the following objectives in reforming mental health care parity:
- The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is awarding $9.3 million to states to help enforce parity protections. California, New York, Massachusetts, Oregon and Rhode Island were cited as models of promising enforcement efforts.
- A new government website will help consumers identify the right agency to assist with their parity complaints and appeals.
- A newly released consumer guide will help patients, families and providers understand their rights and look into whether they have experienced a parity violation.
- The Department of Labor will report each year on its investigations into parity violations
Though I am a bit skeptical that any great strides will be made in the immediate future, I am trying to remain cautiously optimistic that within the next few years, we’ll be able to enjoy equal benefits for mental health care.
My current insurance plan offers a very limited selection of counselors and psychiatrists, and wait lists are often several months long. I had an intake appointment a few weeks ago and am still waiting to hear back on whether or not the counselor in question will even accept me as a patient. I know my experience is not unique and, even more disturbingly, there is the continued dearth of hospital beds for people struggling with severe mental illness who need immediate hospitalization to survive.
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