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Monday, January 7, 2013

Affordable Care Act Requires Health Insurance Plans to Include Coverage for Mental Health Care

It is estimated that approximately 68 million Americans will benefit from mental health and addiction treatment services included in the Affordable Care Act, President Obama's health care reform program. Beginning in 2014, health insurance plans will cover mental health and addiction services as part of the essential benefits each state will be required to offer individuals and families.

Health coverage for mental health and addiction is a historic change in health care reform, one that is welcomed by millions who depend on these life-saving services. Mental illness affects one out of every five Americans, while another 20 million are suffering from dependence upon alcohol or drugs. While these illnesses continue to lose the stigma once associated with them, cost and lack of insurance coverage often prevent necessary treatment from being sought.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently issued benchmarks for what types of benefits each state will be required to include in their health care plans. The plans must include coverage for mental health and addition. The ambiguity seems to be over what is considered sufficient coverage for mental health and substance abuse treatment.

Each state has some flexibility to design their state health insurance plans to meet the needs of their citizens. The lack of clear direction on exactly how much coverage for mental health and addiction is considered essential may result in wide disparity among state plans. To ensure that the purpose for   including coverage for mental illness and addiction actually results in making these services available to millions of Americans who need it, a great deal of responsibility falls upon HHS to make sure there is standardization. The value can only be realized if health care plans across the board contain a sufficient amount of coverage that will make widespread treatment effective.

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