Mental health is health — period.
When someone catches the flu or sprains their ankle, there is no doubt that care is needed. If that person has health insurance, they can go to their doctor, or to emergency care or the nearest hospital. It’s often a mundane, mundane experience. You walk in, you pay a copayment, you see the health professional, and you go home.
Unfortunately, the experience of someone with a mental health issue or in need of treatment for a substance use disorder is usually very different. Often, people are apprehensive about seeking treatment. They’re worrying, “What will my friends think? Where “I probably shouldn’t tell my job that I need time off to see a psychologist.”
Believe me: I had similar thoughts when I needed help coping with alcoholism in my twenties. I knew something was wrong, but it was so hard to take that first step. I am grateful that I had access to the care I needed, because once I asked for help, my life began to change for the better.
But for many, once they’re ready to seek care, getting that care can be an even bigger challenge. From identifying the professionals who will take your insurance to determining the requirements you need to meet for treatment to be covered by your plan, the process can be incredibly difficult to navigate. Not only is this frustrating for those in need of essential services, but in many cases it is illegal.
The Mental Health Parity and Substance Use Equity Act, passed in 2008, aims to improve access to treatment for mental health and substance use disorders. At its core, the law is designed to ensure that insurance companies and health plans cover mental health and treatment for substance use disorders the same way they cover physical care. . Whether you’re seeking help for a sprained ankle or for opioid use, your benefits are protected by law.
Nearly two years into a pandemic, more people than ever need care and are seeking care for mental illness and substance use disorders. So it’s more important than ever to make sure everyone can get the help they need. Getting the care you deserve should never be a struggle.
That’s why mental health parity is a priority for the Biden-Harris administration, for the Department of Labor, and for me personally.
Last year, Congress gave us new tools to enforce the law — and we’re using them. Our Employee Benefits Security Administration is taking action to ensure equal access to treatment for mental health issues and substance use disorders for the more than 136.5 million people covered by insurance plans covered by law.
Last week, we released a report to Congress that highlights where we’ve found insurance companies and health plans are failing to deliver parity of care, and how we’re stepping up our enforcement.
We have increased the staff and resources devoted to this work. Our teams identify violations and work with employers and businesses to increase compliance. Group plans and insurers must be able to show us their work, if they claim to meet the requirements of the law. Additionally, we are reaching out to consumers, health plans, insurance companies, and state regulators to help them understand and follow the law going forward.
And, just as important, we work with a wide range of partners across America to reduce the stigma around mental health and addiction treatment that prevents people from exercising their rights and seeking care first. place. Everywhere I travel, I talk about these issues – and I always find families, providers and communities who are eager to solve them.
We hope that this report and our ongoing efforts will show health plans that we take this issue seriously – and that they will provide more opportunities for people to get the care they need and are entitled to under the law.
The fact is, mental health is simply health. And I know this from experience: when someone reaches out for help, that’s when care and treatment should be there for them.
Martin Walsh is the Secretary of the United States Department of Labor.