A new study led by a UNC professor found that people with mental health conditions are more likely to be insured and receive sufficient, affordable care for their mental needs since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
Kathleen Thomas, senior research fellow at the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research, led the study. She found that after the ACA’s implementation, people with mental illness were more likely to be insured, less likely to report unmet need due to cost and more likely to report a full source of care.
Thomas said that these findings point to the importance of insurance quality standards set by the ACA for all insurers. These standards include not allowing insurers to deny purchase of insurance based on pre-existing conditions. The ACA also defines “essential health benefits” that all policies must cover. These essential health benefits include mental health services, and specify that mental health must be considered a general health service.
“For people with mental health conditions, they have extremely low rates of service use,” Thomas said. “Less than half of people with mental disorders use any mental health services. They have high chronic illness and early mortality rates. So these changes are really a significant policy achievement.”
The study also compared the changes in states that chose to expand Medicaid, a social health care program for individuals with limited income, and those that did not. Thomas said the expansion states saw greater advancement in quality and availability of care. She noted that both expansion and non-expansion states saw overall improvement, a fact she feels further underscores the importance of the quality standards set by the ACA.