National Consumers League

The American Health Care Act’s effect on mental health care coverage


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Written by Taylor Zeitlin, NCL Intern

As the month of May comes to a close, so does Mental Health Awareness Month. With a staggering
17.9 percent of the U.S. population suffering from some form of mental disorder as of 2015, the topic of mental health care coverage is more pertinent than ever. Meanwhile, the House has voted to pass the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which is intended to give both individuals and health care providers more choice when it comes to health coverage.

To some of you, this concept of free choice may be appealing, but the ramifications of such a bill could have grave consequences. The AHCA gives insurers the power to severely limit what is covered under health plans and allows companies to charge higher premiums to those with pre-existing conditions. Major news outlets have been reporting about the tumultuous decline of health care coverage that may result in the event that the American Health Care Act passes into law.

But, what does this mean for those who seek treatment for mental health issues? Under the AHCA, insurers can choose to completely disregard mental health conditions and treatments, suggesting major headaches for sufferers. For those who will be affected, it’s important to know what to expect if the AHCA becomes law.

1.  Those suffering from mental illnesses (i.e. depression) will pay higher premiums.

  • Insurance companies now have the right to charge higher premiums to people who have been diagnosed with depression (also known as Major Depressive Disorder). In the same vein, other ailments such as anxiety or bipolar disorder will be at a financial disadvantage when it comes to coverage. Insurers cannot deny people with pre-existing conditions outright (insurers were allowed to do this before the Affordable Care Act and luckily the House Republicans opted to not bring this back for the AHCA), but mentally ill people seeking insurance will have to pay significantly higher premiums for care.

2.  Mental health care may no longer be protected under health plans.

  • When it came to the topic of essential health benefits (EHB), the AHCA gave the decision-making power back to the states. Under the ACA, addiction and mental health issues were classified as EHBs, and therefore, had to be covered by all insurance plans, including Medicaid. The complete unraveling of the ACA essentially nullifies the right to coverage for these conditions. This means that insurers can opt out of covering mental health care completely in some states and many may be at risk of losing coverage for these critical services. Additionally, the repeal of the subsidies approved by the ACA will allow insurers to charge higher premiums to those seeking mental health care.

3.  Employers will have the ability to purchase health plans that do not cover mental health care.

  • As if it could get any worse, employers will get the right to deny employees care for mental illnesses via the health care packages they choose to provide. So, people will still receive health benefits from their employer, but they will be stripped of the financial support for mental health care that employers were unable to deny before.

The consequences of denying mental health coverage can be fatal. Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death among U.S., while it is the second among teens. Additionally, suicide rates in the United States are at a thirty-year high, making services like therapy and medication more important than ever. Mental health already faces a huge amount of stigma in this country, and the AHCA’s blatant insensitivity towards the issues faced by sufferers is disheartening. Our President and the Senate have a moral prerogative to make sure the AHCA in its current state does not pass into law. Our country should not sacrifice the wellbeing of its citizens for the ease of choice; lives are at risk.