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How to Work with Your Health Insurance to Treat Your Mental Health Condition

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You might not always be able to spot the symptoms of a brain illness, but it’s more common than you’d guess. In any given year, one in five American adults struggles with conditions like depression, anxiety, and substance abuse, according to the National Alliance of Mental Illness. All those behavioral health conditions are considered brain illnesses.

But fewer than half of these affected Americans will receive treatment that can make them better—or even save their lives. One big reason: out-of-pocket costs. Federal law requires insurance companies to cover mental health conditions in the same way as medical care for, say, arthritis, cancer, and diabetes. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.

This isn’t a new issue. Behavioral health conditions weren’t adequately covered in many traditional health insurance plans, until the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA)—otherwise known as the Federal Parity Law—was signed in 2008. It was subsequently strengthened as part of the Affordable Care Act. The law requires most insurance plans pay for mental health, eating disorders, and addiction care, the same way they cover physical health problems.

This means if you have a $10 copay to see your doctor for the flu, you should have a $10 copay to see your doctor for depression, anxiety, or addiction. Sounds good—in theory. But in practice? Not so much.

According to a 2017 report commissioned by the Mental Health Treatment and Research Institute, behavioral health providers, such as psychiatrists and psychologists, were paid 21% less than doctors who treat physical health, like family or internal medicine doctors.

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