Mental health is health – period.
When someone gets the flu, or sprains an ankle, there’s no question about whether care is needed. If that person has health insurance, they can go to their doctor, or nearest urgent care or hospital. It’s often a commonplace, run-of-the-mill experience. You go in, you pay a copayment, you see the health care professional, and you’re on your way home.
Unfortunately, the experience for someone with a mental health condition or in need of treatment for substance use disorder is usually very different. Often, people feel apprehensive about seeking treatment in the first place. They think, “What will my friends think?” or “I probably shouldn’t tell my job that I need time off to see a psychologist.” Trust me: I had similar thoughts when I needed help dealing with alcoholism in my twenties. I knew something was wrong, but it was so hard to take that first step. I’m so grateful that as a union member I had access to the care I needed, because once I did ask for help, my life started to change for the better.
But for many, once they reach a point where they’re ready to seek care, getting care can be an even bigger challenge. From identifying professionals who will take your insurance to figuring out what requirements you need to meet for treatment to be covered by your plan, the process can be incredibly difficult to navigate. Not only is this frustrating for those who need critical services — in many cases, it’s illegal.
The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, passed in 2008 aims to improve access to treatment for mental health conditions and substance use disorders. At its core, the law is designed to make sure insurance companies and health plans cover mental health and substance use disorder benefits the same way they cover physical benefits. Whether you’re seeking care for a sprained ankle or for opioid use, your benefits are protected by the law.
And with more adults seeking care for mental illness and substance use disorders following the pandemic, ensuring that everyone gets the care they deserve is more important than ever. Receiving the care that you need, and are entitled to, shouldn’t be a struggle.
That’s why I’m working with our Employee Benefits Security Administration to prioritize action to ensure equal access to treatment for mental health conditions and substance use disorders for more than 136.5 million people and to remove the stigma for seeking help in the first place. This is a priority for the Biden-Harris administration, for the department, and for me personally.
Today, we released a report to Congress that highlights where insurance companies and health plans are falling short when it comes to providing parity in care, and how we’re ramping up our enforcement of the law. We hope this report and our ongoing efforts show health plans that we take this issue seriously — and provide more opportunities for people to get the care they deserve under the law.