Presidential mental health policies through the ages part 5: Barack Obama

President Barack Obama has made huge strides in mental health parity and accessibility during his time in office. With policy changes and unprecedented overall health care reform, his administration has arguably had the largest effect on the mental health community to date. In his Presidential Proclamation regarding National Mental Health Awareness Month in April 2015, President Obama stated, “We must strive to remove the stigma around mental illness and its treatment, overcome fear and misunderstanding and make sure all those dealing with a mental health issue know they are not alone.”

The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 expanded the scope of the Mental Health Parity Act of 1996. Parity now applies to copays, deductibles, cost-sharing, out-of-network coverage and amounts of outpatient and inpatient treatment sessions that are covered. Substance abuse and addiction treatment services, which were previously excluded from federal parity laws, are also included under this scope. Like the 1996 law, this does not require insurance companies or employers to provide mental health coverage but mandates entities that do so provide equal coverage to medical and/or surgical benefits offered. However, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which was signed into law in March 2010, requires small group employers and individual insurance plans to comply to federal parity laws and ensures all plans offered to the public in the Health Insurance Marketplace include mental health and substance abuse treatment as an “Essential Health Benefit.” Mental health disorders can also no longer labeled as pre-existing conditions.

President Obama has also made efforts to increase accessibility to mental health care for military and veterans by signing the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (SAV) Act into law on February 12, 2015. Clay Hunt was a Marine veteran and Purple Heart who took his own life in March 2011 after being vocal about the lack of resources available to him through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. He was diagnosed with PTSD but only received minimal counseling services to monitor the many medications he was prescribed. By putting this law into effect, President Obama hopes to avoid tragedies for future military and veterans struggling with mental health issues. He also aims to tackle these issues among children and adolescents through his implementation of the Mental Health First Aid Act of 2015. This law appropriated $20 million to training services for teachers and other professionals working with children in an attempt to help detect early warning signs of mental health and/or substance abuse issues, teach de-escalation tactics and encourage referrals to professionals and community resources.

The Obama administration has worked to reduce the stigma associated with mental health and substance abuse issues, while implementing policies to support treatment and prevention. If you or a loved one is facing a nonviolent drug-related charge, help is available. Sovereign Court Services can advocate on your behalf for addiction treatment in lieu of incarceration. Call 866-439-7698 to speak with an advocate today.

Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer

September 8, 2015

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