Medically Approved

How new legislation could change mental health care

Person with mental issues hugging themselves

Optum Perks Author

By Optum Perks Author

Our current political environment has created a lot of discussion about mental health lately, and potential changes to healthcare might have a large effect on the members of our population who struggle with adequate mental health resources. Before getting right into the details about impending legislation and its outcome, let’s zoom back a bit and try to understand how mental health, and specifically depression, affects people.

How Do You Define Mental Health?

An important consideration in all stages of life, mental health is the term we use to compile information about our emotional and psychological state. This concept is applicable on a personal level as well as how we relate to others in social situations. The spectrum of all behaviors or thought patterns that fall under the umbrella of mental health is quite wide and ranges from mild anxiety all the way to schizophrenia.

Depending on the severity of one’s symptoms and how they impact daily living, mental health treatment can look a number of different ways. Some individuals choose to seek out a group counseling approach, while others prefer the anonymity of one on one therapy. When we look to the more severe side of mental health, treatment can include hospitalization, medication, or electroconvulsive therapy.

Depression Hides In Plain Sight

One of the more talked about types of mental health is depression, and while it affects many people, some are often unwilling to discuss it due to the stigma that’s attached to mental health issues. What many don’t realize is that they aren’t alone; over 15 million people in the United States experience episodes of depression, and this is just pointing to people over the age of 18. Children and young teens are also at risk for some kind of depressive behavior during their adolescence.

Unfortunately, the attitudes toward people who are depressed contribute to a larger problem when it comes to mental health care. Using terms like “unbalanced” or even “crazy,” the fear that leads to not talking about one’s depression can result in isolation and the worsening of symptoms. Trying to get help can become a financial challenge as well as a mental hurdle to overcome. Studies have shown that prior to Obamacare, more than 1/3 of healthcare plans didn't include coverage for mental health treatment.

Upcoming Legislation Changes

With as many as 1 in 4 people experiencing mental health issues on a regular basis, how does insurance policy affect treatment and people’s access to care? Whether you were a proponent of Obamacare or not, there’s a lot to be said for the increased access to mental health services that the legislation provided. Individuals who were once unable to receive treatment for anything from depression to OCD at least had the opportunity to purchase coverage that was more affordable than before.

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What new legislation, called the American Health Care Act, proposes could have the potential to be detrimental to those who need mental health support. One of the biggest cuts to the current landscape of treatment is to reduce the funding available for Medicaid programs, which is often times the only way that low-income people can gain access to care. In fact, Medicaid has been proven to be the largest payer of all behavioral health treatment in the nation. This substantial change will dramatically reduce how effective the system has been in the past, and could work to tear down the progress we’ve made over the last decade.

One major aspect of the new legislation involves how insurance companies define “essential benefits.” While mental health care was once included in most major plans, the American Health Care Act will allow insurance companies to strip down their policies to a bare bones type of coverage. Should an individual need access to additional benefits, like mental health care, they could be faced with higher premiums.

What Could The Future Look Like?

There may be some light at the end of the tunnel, however, as President Trump recently nominated Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz to run the federal mental health service program. If confirmed, this appointment would signify a renewed focus on those who need support with severe psychiatric diagnoses. While this shift in focus has the support from some psychiatrists, some health professionals have voiced concerns that this new potential administration would put too much emphasis on medicating and hospitalizing patients and remove support that would help them integrate successfully into society.

If the American Health Care Act passes, it will significantly change how most individuals view and use their healthcare, if they have any at all. Those with lower incomes will feel this change the most, yet even those who can afford healthcare might not be able to pay extra for the prescriptions or services they really need. While opinions are polarized, many feel that certain elements of the American Health Care Act will actually work to reverse the progress our country has made.

If you’re suffering from depression or any other mental health concern, remember that there are inexpensive options available like group meetings, peer-to-peer support, and counselors who operate on a sliding scale.