Apple Pie, Baseball … and Mass Shootings
By Joel E. Miller, AMHCA Executive Director & CEO
and Mental Illness … and Healthcare Reform
Another shooting rampage took place in September, this time at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. Twelve people were killed and several injured—by a person with a mental illness—sending another shockwave through our collective soul, here in Washington and across the nation.
Some policy experts have suggested we are becoming numb to these numerous episodes. Or could it be that, as a Western European relative told me, “Americans seem to think that life is cheap.” May it not be so. AMHCA’s thoughts are with the families and friends of those whose lives were lost.
Even before concern over mental illness and gun laws resurfaced, however, some of the important changes in the way health insurance is offered and healthcare is delivered are getting lost in the shuffle. The confusion is due to a misinformation campaign about the 2010 healthcare reform law as well as the benefits of the law for people with mental health conditions.
Has the mental health community lost a major opportunity to address major problems in our society, namely: eliminating stigma and discrimination toward people with mental illness and creating the resources to reduce the burden of mental illness in the United States?
I believe the answer to that question is a resounding no. If the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) is defunded, however, or implementation delayed, or if the law is repealed—then indeed, we will have lost the potential and ability to address the mental health burden in our nation.
Over the last 15 years, we have seen major reports come and go—like those from the U.S. Surgeon General and the New Freedom Commission—that spotlighted the need to “transform” a broken mental health system. Little or no action resulted from those reports and the recommendations were put on the proverbial shelf. Now is our time to make that transformation happen and implement the investments we know are necessary to address the needs of people with mental illness, because ...
... Make No Mistake: Healthcare Reform Is Mental Health Reform!
To make that case, AMHCA is embarking on a new initiative, beginning with this issue of The Advocate. In the first article of a special three-part series on healthcare reform, we are spotlighting key provisions in the Affordable Care Act that impact individuals with mental health conditions and the implications for mental health counselors.
In addition, AMHCA plans—through webinars, special reports, social media, working groups, virtual teams, and forums on best practices—to better position mental health counselors in the healthcare and mental healthcare landscape, which has been ever-changing since the inception of the Affordable Care Act in 2010.
Opportunities Abound for Mental Health Counselors
A shortage of primary care physicians and psychiatrists in many parts of the country is expected to worsen as millions of newly insured Americans gain coverage under the federal healthcare reform law next year. Doctors will face a backlog, and clients will find it difficult to get quick appointments.
Mental health counselors will need to step into this breach to serve the needs of individuals with mental health conditions, especially for minority groups and those who reside in inner-city and rural areas. Your voice must be heard at the state level, where barriers have been erected to keep clinical mental health counselors, and other professionals, from receiving reimbursement.
In many cases, you are the first line of defense in the effort to decrease the burden of mental illness and reduce needless suffering. Although healthcare stakeholders are placing more emphasis on improving the quality of care for individuals with chronic and serious medical and mental health conditions, clinical mental health counselors also recognize that mental illness prevention and wellness programs are critically important.
Health plans and purchasers at all levels will be thrilled to discover that mental health counselors define their work as promoting healthy lifestyles and restoring mental health, among other skills and training. This is the time to strut your stuff.
Policymakers must recognize that the mental health burden affects society as a whole, our communities, and our families. The ACA provides this macro- or whole-based approach, through health insurance reforms, coverage expansions, and delivery system changes.
For example—and this is just the tip of the iceberg—the covered preventive services in ACA’s essential benefits package that health insurers must offer to individuals include: depression screening for adults, alcohol-misuse screening and counseling, domestic and interpersonal violence screening for women, and behavioral assessments for children.
The statistics show why mental health reform is needed:
- One in five adults has experienced a mental health episode.
- Over 50 percent of all mental health
- disorders initially manifest themselves before a person turns 14 years of age.
- Nearly 75 percent of mental health disorders begin before age 24.
- Less than 20 percent of children and adolescents with mental health problems receive the treatment they need.
- One in 20 Americans lives with a serious mental illness such as major depression.
Oct. 1 Is “E-Day” in the United States
On Oct. 1, individuals Eligible to receive health insurance coverage can begin to Enroll in one of the coverage expansions provided in the ACA.
The “open enrollment” period to sign up for coverage runs Oct. 1 through March 31, 2014, or whenever people sign up after that date.
Healthcare reform will dramatically improve the lives of people with mental illness.
Healthcare reform will provide a major opportunity for mental
health counselors to be an important part of multidisciplinary teams, providing end-to-end services to clients.
You can play a major role in reducing suffering thanks to your skills and to the components embodied in the ACA.
Don’t let politically motivated misinformation and ideology thwart a major opportunity to improve mental healthcare for all Americans.