The Affordable Care Act was instrumental in making insurance providers cover mental illness.
While the health care–reform debate raged over the last eight years, a quiet progressive victory made lives better for millions of people with surprisingly little controversy—the simple idea that mental health should be taken as seriously as physical health. That’s because a broad coalition of advocates ensured that the Affordable Care Act included the concept of “mental health parity”—meaning insurance providers must provide equality in services for mental- and physical-health care.
But now the Trump administration threatens to just as stealthily unravel the modest gains in mental-health equity by shredding the ACA, sinking those millions deeper into silent despair.
The ACA required both private insurance and state-subsidized Medicaid plans to offer mental health and substance-abuse treatment as an essential benefit—a core safeguard for parity. According to Andrew Sperling, legislative director of National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), though it is unclear what parts of the ACA might be repealed, if the 20 million people who benefited directly from Obamacare lose coverage, mental-health patients would suffer because “there would be fewer plans out there that would be required to comply” with essential-benefit mandates. Parity for zero is still zero. “Obviously, if you don’t have a health plan, you can’t be in compliance with parity.”
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