By Amanda Li, B.A., Junior Policy Associate
Mental disorders and substance abuse have widespread, disabling burdens on our health and communities. Over 20% of people in New York suffer from mental illness-related symptoms every year, and 1 in every 10 people experience symptoms severe enough to hinder their day-to-day functioning. Moreover, across New York State, nearly 2 million people are undergoing substance abuse issues. Mental illness and substance abuse can have detrimental effects on a person’s health and wellbeing, increasing risks across multiple dimensions including unemployment, school failure, homelessness, and even mortality—opioid overdoses alone are responsible for 33,091 deaths in the U.S. during 2015.
Before the Affordable Care Act (ACA), mental health and substance abuse-related services were extremely underfunded. Along with the stigma associated with mental disorders and drug use, limitations on insurance coverage also served as a barrier to getting needed care. Not only did the ACA greatly expand healthcare coverage as a whole, but it also provided a significant expansion of coverage for mental health and substance abuse. Under the ACA, insurance plans are required to cover services related to mental health and substance abuse, as well as services for habilitation and rehabilitation that assist people who suffer from behavioral health issues. Additionally, a majority of health insurance plans now provide coverage for preventive services, including depression screenings and behavioral assessments, as a result of the ACA. Overall, the ACA has expanded benefits for mental health and substance abuse to 62 million people in the U.S.
Unfortunately, we are currently at risk of losing the ACA. A repeal of the law would not only potentially deprive 20 million people of health insurance, but it could also dissipate the newfound coverage for mental health under the law. It could leave millions of people having to choose between feeding themselves or getting necessary mental health care.
The Advancing Prevention Project recognizes the severe health implications of mental illness and drug use, and the need to effectively address them. During this time when the future of healthcare in America is unclear, it is important that we speak up and advocate for the crucial services that the ACA provides for our health and for the wellbeing of our communities.