My wife works in the mental health field so we’re naturally curious about how health reform might affect access to mental health benefits. My hunch is that it would only improve such access in two ways: (1) by expanding eligibility for and funding of Medicaid, which is already a major facilitator of access to mental health benefits; (2) by expanding coverage in general, which will increase the affordability of mental health benefits for uninsured individuals not eligible for Medicaid.
In an e-mail I put the question to Aaron Carroll who replied,
I think the short answer is that mental health parity has already passed and is law. Employer based insurance now has to include mental health coverage. The Senate bill requires that plans sold through the exchange will have parity, and those added to Medicaid should have it as well. Here’s a summary from the Bazelon Center for mental health law, as well as a summary page for those who want more information.
In particular, the overview of the Bazelon Center’s health reform analysis which Carroll cites states that health reform legislation “require[s] that health plans meet certain standards and cover mental health and substance abuse services.” Though I have not seen an analysis of the specific bill that passed I think it is overwhelmingly likely that health reform will increase affordability of and access to mental health benefits.
Informed readers who know a great deal more about the likely effects of health reform on mental health are invited to share their knowledge on this issue.
Later: See my follow-up post for more information on mandated benefits.