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Mental Health Mood Boost: More Coverage From Health Plans Coming Soon

For decades the National Mental Health Association has been fighting a perception battle amongst the general public; or at least those who are not affected by mental health disorders. So afflicted by its own persona, the association itself recently changed its own name.

Mental Health America! (as it’s now known) has amassed some 300 affiliate organizations across the country who lobby on behalf of their individual members for, among other things, mental health coverage in group health insurance plans. This week, their collective voices were heard and shared by Kathleen Sebelius, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Under a new law affecting all health insurance plans on July 1, 2010, employers and their group health plans cannot limit coverage for mental health treatment for less than the treatment of physical conditions like cancer and heart disease. That means insurers cannot set higher co-payments, deductibles or limits on inpatient or outpatient visits to psychiatrists or psychotherapists. It’s an insurance disparity that’s commonplace with health insurance plans, but one that doctors say have made it extremely difficult for people to obtain treatment for disorders like bipolar disease, drug and alcohol abuse and autism.

According to statistics from Mental Health America!, only about 18 percent of all adults in the United States ever seeks treatment for mental health disorders. The most likely limitation to seeking treatment, say doctors, is medical insurance restrictions on care that is not related to a physical ailment. For years, most traditional group health insurance plans have issued separate deductibles for mental health care and physical health care. The new rules will put an end to this practice, essentially combining these deductibles so those with a need for ongoing mental health conditions can afford to get treatment.

“Patients with mental illness often have general medical conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure that require treatment at the same time,” said Irvin Muszynski, an attorney with the American Psychiatric Association. “So a combined deductible makes sense.”

The change is two years in the making, as a 2008 law was adopted with bi-partisan support that significantly expanded the rights of people with mental health conditions.

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