One of the greatest health care disparities facing children in New York concerns access to behavioral health services. One in five US children experience a diagnosable mental health disorder, but just 21% of those children are receiving any form of treatment. This is far below typical levels for physical health conditions.
The Affordable Care Act attempts to address this gap in care for children in need of behavioral health services. Specifically, the ACA includes a major expansion of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA). The law and its related expansion attempt to ensure that behavioral health insurance benefits are no more restrictive than their medical/surgical counterparts. In other words, plans can’t decide to cover 10 visits for a particular physical health condition but only 5 visits for a behavioral health condition. This equivalency of benefits helps to promote access to care and reduces the stigma associated with mental health and substance use disorder services, thus chipping away at this staggering health disparity.
On January 30th, HCFANY’s Children, Youth and Families Taskforce and the Children’s Defense Fund – NY hosted a webinar to promote awareness of behavioral health provisions in the ACA and the work happening to promote and secure mental health parity. Andrew Leonard, Senior Health Policy Associate for the Children’s Defense Fund, described some of the ACA’s behavioral health provisions and offered an in-depth look at MHPAEA. CYF was also honored to be joined by Dennis Romero, the SAMHSA Regional Administrator for Region II (NJ, NY, PR, and US VI). Mr. Romero provided a wealth of insight regarding changes to the health care landscape, the growing integration of behavioral health and primary care, and SAMHSA’s initiatives to ensure access to behavioral health care. A recording of the Webinar is available here. You can view the presenter’s slides on the CDF-NY website here (Andrew Leonard) and here (Dennis Romero).