December 26, 2016 Felicia Durling

What Parity Really Means for Mental Health Treatment

What Parity Really Means for Mental Health TreatmentParity (noun) : the state or condition of being equal, especially regarding status or pay.

Parity comes into question regarding mental health when insurance companies deny treatment to addicts and alcoholics in need of treatment. There is a longstanding debate regarding addiction, though increasing scientific research proves the argument. Is addiction a mental health issue or an issue of crime and immorality? President Barack Obama has publicly stated that not only is addiction a mental health issue, it is a public health crisis, which demands attention. The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act was officially signed in 2008 followed by the Affordable Care Act. Whereas the Mental Health Parity Act put insurance companies and the treatment industry on par with other medical fields, the Affordable Care Act extended the hands of treatment to more people.

According to the Mental Health Parity Act, insurance companies are supposed to treat patients with diagnosed substance dependence disorders, substance use disorders, and addiction equally. Few have. In fact, major insurance providers have stopped covering certain facilities altogether, making it difficult for treatment providers to provide treatment. When a treatment facility doesn’t receive payment from insurance companies, they have to limit their patients in order to pay staff and continue operations. Ironically, the Affordable Care Act is supposed to ensure more people receive treatment from more treatment providers.

Congressman Joe Kennedy III, of Massachusetts, recently wrote a blog on Mental Health Parity for Huffington Post. He cited the importance of insurance companies covering mental health treatment for addiction. “If we don’t ensure basic insurance coverage for those services,” Congressman Kennedy writes, “then the vast majority of working and middle class families won’t be able to afford them.” Most of those families, he explains, can’t afford a check the instant insurance companies cut off coverage. Additionally, many of those families will have to see their loved one go into treatment multiple times. “Mental illness and substance abuse disorders are rarely remedied with one prescription or one treatment,” writes the Congressman. “They are most likely to be chronic and enduring, requiring those suffering to fight bravely for their healthy every single day.”

What parity really means for mental health treatment is a call to arms to continuously refine the way the system works. Addiction treatment has come a long way, with much more room to grow.

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