Obamacare: A Boost to Mental Health and Addiction Services

We are now 10 months from the official start of Obamacare and we are seeing the positive impact it is having for people with mental health and/or substance use issues. The Affordable Care Act included as one of the 10 essential benefits treatment for behavioral health (mental health/substance use) conditions. The inclusion of this benefit is critical and set the stage for what State’s would need to include as part of their implementation plan. California’s plan includes a full array of outpatient and residential services that are required for health plans providing coverage under Covered California and for individuals enrolled in the Medi-Cal program. The other significant part of Obamacare is the Medicaid (in California Medi-Cal) Covered Expansion (MCE) which extends Medi-Cal benefits to individuals with incomes of less than 138% of the Federal Poverty Level without requiring the person to have a qualifying disability or having children.

In San Mateo County 24,000 people have enrolled in the MCE and the total Medi-Cal population has exceeded 100,000.

Individuals with less severe mental health problems now have access to mental health services. BHRS is working closely with the Health Plan of San Mateo (HPSM) on informing the beneficiaries of this new benefit and on developing a comprehensive network of providers that can respond to the diverse language and cultures of the clientele. Since January we have seen more than a 25% increase in calls for services.

We are also working with HPSM on expanding our medication assisted treatment project that has shown significant results in helping individuals with serve and chronic alcoholism reduce their drinking and use of emergency medical services. This expansion which is primarily for MCE clients will link with primary care providers, adult probation, emergency medical services and detox to identify, engage and link individuals to both medications and case management. We expect this to have a dramatic impact on hundreds of individuals and their families.

Through our state association of county behavioral health departments we are working closely with the California Department of Health Care Services to dramatically change how substance use treatment services are provided in California. With these changes individuals will have greater access to the right level of treatment and with that a corresponding improvement in their lives.

In a less direct, but no less important way, Obamacare is having a major impact on reducing stigma for individuals and their families struggling with mental health and/or substance use challenges. As one of the 10 essential benefits it recognizes behavioral health conditions and treatment on an equal par with all other health related challenges. And by doing so destigmatizes seeking treatment and opens the door for people to get the care they need and deserve.