One really positive feature of the Affordable Care Act is the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act. Originally proposed by President Carter, signed by President George W. Bush, and now becoming a reality as part of Obamacare:
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said the law “ensures that health plan features like co-pays, deductibles and visit limits are generally not more restrictive for mental health/substance abuse disorders benefits than they are for medical/surgical benefits.”
A new study from Duke University tells why this law is now so important:
More than half of adolescents with psychiatric disorders receive no treatment of any sort, says a new study by E. Jane Costello, a Duke University professor of psychology and epidemiology and associate director of the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy. When treatment does occur, the providers are rarely mental health specialists, says the study, which was based on a survey of more than 10,000 American teenagers.
Pediatricians have long advocated for better access for young patients to the mental health system, which has historically been separated from the medical and surgical health care system. Providing care for children with mental health and behavioral disorders is a large part of modern pediatric practice, and navigating it can be a huge challenge for pediatricians, patients, and families. The study points to some of the problems:
Costello noted that not all teens in the study fared the same. Treatment rates varied greatly for different mental disorders, for instance. Adolescents with ADHD, conduct disorder or oppositional defiant disorder received mental health care more than 70 percent of the time. By contrast, teens suffering from phobias or anxiety disorders were the least likely to be treated. Results also varied greatly by race, with black youths significantly less likely to be treated for mental disorders than white youths.
The care that teenagers received also varied greatly. In many cases, care was provided by pediatricians, school counselors or probation officers rather than by people with specialized mental health training. There simply are not enough qualified child mental health professionals to go around, Costello said.
Here is a way to start solving the problem:
“We need to train more child psychiatrists in this country,” Costello said. “And those individuals need to be used strategically, as consultants to the school counselors and others who do the lion’s share of the work.”