Keith Humphreys argues we’re entering a golden age for mental health care:
For most of U.S. history, employers did not provide adequate mental health benefits in the insurance packages they assembled for employees. This wasn’t a controversial policy: most labor unions were quite happy to trade “mental for dental” when they negotiated fringe benefits. But over time, more and more families who were being destroyed by a loved one’s schizophrenia or alcoholism or manic depression went through a second round of suffering when they discovered that their employer-based insurance wouldn’t pay for care.
These families made common cause with other advocates to mount a 12-year push for equal treatment, which culminated in the 2008 Wellstone-Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Act. As a result of this law, the more than 100 million Americans who receive insurance through large employers are now guaranteed that their mental health-related benefits will be comparable to those for the treatment of other disorders.
Also in 2008, a major effort to reform Medicare passed, one that critically included a little-noticed mental health provision that just came into full effect this year. Since its creation, Medicare had covered 80% of all outpatient care except for mental health and addiction treatment, only 50% of which was covered. This extremely high co-payment effectively prevented many Medicare recipients from receiving mental health care. Today, however, the 50 million senior citizens and disabled persons who rely on Medicare enjoy the same level of coverage for outpatient psychiatric care as they do for all other types of medical treatment.
The 2010 Affordable Care Act is even more transformative. The law allows a parent to keep their children on family health insurance until the age of 26, thereby fully covering the age range in which almost all serious mental illnesses and addictions begin. Furthermore, the law defines insurance coverage for mental illness and addiction care as “essential health benefits.” As a result, both the Medicaid expansion and the private plans sold on health exchanges all cover care for psychiatric disorders at the same level as other diseases. The Department of Health and Human Services estimates that over 60 million Americans will receive improved mental health insurance coverage because of the provisions of the ACA.