How the Affordable Care Act Has Made It Easier to Get Mental Health and Substance Use Care
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, millions more people have coverage for mental health and substance use disorder services.
Coverage of these services is now a required benefit in plans sold to individuals, families, and small businesses. Before the ACA people enrolled in private plans often found they did not have coverage for the services they needed: 18 percent of people enrolled in private plans did not have any coverage for mental health services, and 34 percent did not have any coverage for substance use disorder services.
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, the coverage for mental health and substance use services provided in individual and small group plans must be “at parity” with other benefits.
This means that coverage for these important services is now comparable to coverage for other medical care: For instance, plans can’t have more restrictive yearly visit limits for mental health services, or impose higher deductibles and co-pays than they do for other services. Thirty million people benefit from this parity protection.
People now have access to important preventive services.
Behavioral health assessments and screening for depression are a free preventive service that must be covered by health plans, including Medicare.
Medicaid is crucial to funding for mental health and substance use services.
Medicaid is the single largest payer for mental health services in the country. It accounts for 25 percent of all mental health spending in the U.S., 21 percent of all substance use treatment spending, and between 35 and 50 percent of all medication-assisted treatment for opioids.
Health insurance has made a significant difference to people’s access to mental health care.
The proportion of low- and middle-income people who say they forego mental health/substance use disorder care due to the cost has fallen by one third. Because of the Affordable Care Act, people now have coverage for screening for mental health services, counseling and treatment, psychiatric medications, and when needed, hospitalization.