ACA brings mixed news on mental health benefits

Despite concerns that mental health coverage mandates under the Affordable Care Act may strain the mental health system, it's been six months since implementation and people have yet to increase their use of mental health and substance abuse benefits, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Caregivers attribute patients' apparent disinterest to the fact that people are still learning how to use their new health plans as well as the stigma still attached to mental illness. Moreover, Pennsylvania's decision to forgo Medicaid expansion has created a behavioral health gap in care, the article noted.

"If you don't have private insurance and you are not poor enough to be on Medicaid, it is very difficult to get behavioral health services because not enough people provide it on a sliding-scale basis," Joseph Rogers, chief advocacy officer for the Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania, told the Inquirer.

However, a June study found that among younger enrollees who stayed on their parents' coverage under the ACA, inpatient visits for mental health issues have expanded. Instead of signaling better access to care, the uptick in hospital use might suggest inadequate outpatient resources to treat mental health patients earlier and less expensively, according to Kaiser Health News.

Inadequate mental health resources for children, adolescents and young adults have led to a "substantial public mental health burden" in Connecticut, where a task force called for incentives for public and commercial insurance partnerships to fund child and young adult mental healthcare, the Associated Press reported.

The group also recommended higher reimbursement rates to push more providers to accept Medicaid patients and that primary care providers screen children and young adults up to 25 for behavioral health problems.

In addition to children and young adults, the industry must better address the mental health needs of the older dual-eligible population as well. Integrated behavioral and medical health is key to streamlining care and curbing costs for the dual-eligible patient population, psychiatrists from WellPoint and Molina Healthcare said at the recent AHIP Institute in Seattle.

To learn more:
- read the Inquirer article
- read the KHN article
- here' the AP article