Nearly every day, the Mental Health Center of Western Maryland gets calls from people who need care but have no insurance and cannot afford to pay out of pocket. The Hagerstown, Md., center cares for about 1,600 patients every month, but there are many in need that the center has no choice but to turn away.
It is a problem that Mark Lannon, MSW, LCSW-C, the center’s executive director, hopes will become less common as the nation’s recently upheld health reform law is fully enacted. In particular, Lannon said the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s mental health access and parity provisions will not only widen access to services, but drive better integration between mental health and primary care.
“The law will definitely improve access,” Lannon said. “And I do believe that increasing accessibility will help people who might deny they have a problem to seek help.”
The movement for mental health parity received a big boost with the 2010 passage of the Affordable Care Act, which builds on previous efforts to bring coverage of mental health on equal footing with other health services. In 2008, federal lawmakers enacted the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, mandating that insurers who choose to cover mental health services do so with the same financial requirements and treatment limitations they would apply to other medical care. Unfortunately, the act only applied to employers with 50 or more workers, leaving gaps.
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