Congress Strengthens Mental Health Parity

Carol Rickard

Carol Rickard, Community Education and Outreach
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance

With the stroke of his pen on December 13, 2016, as he signed the 21st Century Cures Act, President Obama moved our nation one step closer to treating the whole person and ensuring equal access to health care for individuals living with a mental health condition. This law addresses a wide range of health issues, including a major emphasis on mental health issues. In signing the legislation, the President put into motion critical provisions to improve implementation and enforcement of the 2008 parity law.

The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (the Federal Parity Law) created much-needed protections for ensuring mental health is treated equally to physical health and ending the discriminatory practices used.  As was highlighted in the August 23, 2016 CFYM post, there has been a great void in implementation and enforcement because the federal law left much of the enforcement to the states. This, in turn, left significant gaps in protection to equal access for individuals in need of mental health treatment. The unintentional consequence: a law enacted to protect people has failed to do so.

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Peer Support Receives Much Needed Recognition from Congress

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance

Congress gave mental health advocates a year-end present during the lame duck session by passing mental health reform legislation as part of the 21st Century Cures Act and sending it to President Obama for signature. Over the next three weeks CFYM will highlight key pieces of the legislation that benefit individuals living with mood disorders and their families.

In the August 2, 2016 CFYM post—as part of the shared decision making series—peer specialist Tom Lane explained how including peer support services delivered by a certified peer specialist can improve outcomes. Peer specialists serve as a member of the mental health care team and share their own experiences as a peer to develop trust with clients. According to Mr. Lane, “this enables the individual to divulge concerns, share desired outcomes from treatment, and acquire skills to approach the care team as an equal participant.” Further, Lane articulated that key to the peer-client relationship is a recognition and acceptance by the individual that the course of treatment is ultimately his/her choice.

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What Is the Future of Obamacare?

Health Insurance Photo

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance

With Republicans moving into the White House and controlling both houses of Congress, what can the American people expect to happen to “Obamacare” and what impact will that have for those of us living with a mood disorder and our families? If Obamacare collapses, will we have access to mental health care?

Many people are unaware of the connection between mental health parity and Obamacare. Mental health parity became law in 2008, making it illegal for insurance plans to provide different levels of coverage for mental health care as compared to medical/surgical benefits. However, it was the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA); often referred to as “Obamacare” that required all health insurance plans governed by this law to offer mental health coverage in the first place. Until Obamacare, insurance plans could side-step parity by simply not offering mental health coverage. As a new administration gets ready to take charge, many people are asking if they will still have affordable access to insurance plans that provide both physical and mental health coverage.

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Nursing Homes Are Turning Away Patients with Mental Health Issues

Daniel D. Sewell Photo

Daniel D. Sewell, MD, Director, Senior Behavioral Health, UC San Diego Medical Center

Care For Your Mind acknowledges and appreciates the collaboration of the National Network of Depression Centers and the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry in developing this post.

Chemical restraint is a serious problem in nursing homes. History has shown that psychotropic medications tend to be overused in order to keep residents with problem behaviors such as wandering or combativeness subdued or “under control.”

In other words, there are documented instances when serious psychiatric drugs are given to people who might not have needed them.

To address this and other nursing home quality issues, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) created a Five-Star Quality Rating System. One of the rating criteria is the number of residents at the facility who are receiving antipsychotic medications: the larger the number, the lower the score the facility receives.

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