Last week a tragedy in sleepy Newtown, CT rocked the nation as a killer claimed the lives of 26 people in an elementary school, his mother, and himself. The sheer atrocity of the act has brought gun control and mental health to the forefront of political debate. It should be noted that the shooter has not been confirmed to suffer from mental illness. However, several other similar, recent, high profile event have included killers suffering from mental illness, including the murders at a Batman viewing in an Aurora, CO movie theater, and the political rally in Tucson, AZ, where former U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords was shot and wounded. These additional incidents claimed the lives of 15 people and wounded several others.
Access to mental health services is increasingly a part of the discussion when these sorts of horrific events occur. Mental health care can be expensive and, in many cases, may not be covered by insurance. However, a number of actions have already been taken in order to ensure that coverage may be obtained through various forms of insurance. In 2008, the Mental Health Parity Act required businesses with 50 or more employees who offer some mental health coverage in their insurance plan to bring the coverage up to the level of physical care. This law affected only those whose employers already offered some mental health coverage. Similarly, Obamacare lists mental health coverage as one of the essential coverages that must be provided in health insurance exchange policies. The policies will go online in 2014.
For low income individuals and seniors, one of the primary methods of paying for healthcare is through Medicaid (Medi-Cal in California). Additionally, Medicaid programs are the largest source of mental health care payments. In California, Medi-Cal recipients may contact the county Mental Health Plan (MHP) for information about how to obtain and use mental health care for themselves or their children by calling MHP at 1-800-479-3339. Services may include screening, counseling, and crisis or emergency care. Additionally, the service may provide substance abuse and rehabilitation programs. Certain additional services are available to children and young adults under the age of 21. For all new recipients of Medi-Cal due to the Obamacare Medicaid expansion, the state will be required to offer mental health coverage similar to that of private insurance plans.
These events are yet another stark reminder that mental health care is an urgent issue in the country. Although access to appropriate care continues to be sometimes limited due to mental health professional availability and perceived stigma, it is important to recognize that if you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, substance abuse, depression, or another mental health problem, they may receive the care they need through MHP. Hopefully, increasing awareness of the services available will help prevent future tragedies such as this one. Until then, this office extends its deepest sympathies to those affected by the events in Newtown, especially the families of those individuals who were murdered.
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