Mental Health Parity — Meeting Topic for April 21 General Meeting

James Preis, Executive Director, and Nancy Shea, Senior Attorney, of Mental Health Advocacy Services (MHAS) will speak at our regular monthly meeting (Monday, April 21, at 7:30 p.m., First Lutheran Church, 2900 Carson in Torrance) about mental health parity in insurance. Mental health parity is a critical issue. It is the recognition of mental health conditions as equivalents to physical illnesses. Under mental health parity laws, insurance companies will not be able to limit or treat differently benefits for mental health treatment.

The Affordable Care Act potentially affects benefits of health care insurance for persons with a mental illness. You don’t want to miss this meeting.

MHAS is a private, non-profit organization established in 1977 to provide free legal services to people with mental and developmental disabilities. MHAS is sponsored by the Los Angeles County Bar Association, the Beverly Hills Bar Association, and the Mental Health Association in California. MHAS assists both children and adults, with an emphasis on obtaining WebBannerScaledgovernment benefits and services, protecting rights, and fighting discrimination. MHAS also serves as a resource to the community by providing training and technical assistance to attorneys, mental health professionals, consumer and family member groups, and other advocates. In addition, MHAS participates in impact litigation in an effort to improve the lives of people with mental and developmental disabilities. Our families have benefited greatly from their education and advocacy efforts on SSI and look forward to their support in ensuring there is mental health parity in insurance programs.

A Caring & Sharing support group for family members will be held in the Fireside Room at 6:30 p.m. before the general meeting.

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Healthcare law may close gaps in mental health coverage

A disjointed financing system for mental health services in California has led to gaps in care, but the national healthcare law is expected to help close some of those holes, according to new research by the California HealthCare Foundation. Half of the state’s adults and two-thirds of the adolescents with mental health issues aren’t receiving treatment, according to the study.

Private insurance has historically lacked mental health services, so patients often seek care through the public system. Nearly $7.8 billion in public money was spent in fiscal year 2012-13 on mental health care, with the largest share — $3.3 billion — paying for Medi-Cal beneficiaries. The Affordable Care Act, however, is expected to improve access for many. The law expands who is eligible for Medi-Cal, the coverage program for poor and disabled residents, enabling them to get comprehensive mental health services, and California residents purchasing insurance through the healthcare marketplace will also have access to mental health care.

“We should be seeing the opportunity for that whole infrastructure to bulk up to meet the demand,” she said.

In addition, the law promotes more integration between mental health care and physical health care. There is an increasing awareness about how important it is for doctors to address mental health and substance abuse needs among their medical patients, said Neal Adams, deputy director of the California Institute for Mental Health. “When we talk about pursuing health for people, it really needs to include emotional well-being as well as physical well-being,” said Adams, a psychiatrist and the project manager for one of the reports.

Even with the changes in the national healthcare law, policymakers will still face challenges. “As we bring more uninsured and poor people into the healthcare delivery system … there is a really serious question about how and where those needs are going to be met,” Adams said. “People are very worried about workforce shortages.”

  • From LA Times, July 17, 2013, by Anna Gorman