3 Decades of Legislation and the Changing Views on Mental Health

3 Decades of Legislation and the Changing Views on Mental Health

Most Americans support the need for mental health treatments and current laws protect housing, employment and social rights

Today’s attitudes about mental health disorders are more developed than thirty years ago. Scientific studies have revealed more about brain function and psychological moods, making it easier for mental health advocates pushing for legislative change. While laws always lag behind current needs, several pieces of landmark legislation have made life easier for people with mental health disorders compared with 30 years ago.

The most significant mental-health related laws affect a person’s rights at work and ensure a person receives mental health coverage under health insurance policies. Legal issues surrounding addiction and criminal activities are still in major flux. On the whole, more people are likely to understand that mental health disorders and addiction are diseases, which makes it more likely lawmakers will continue to address mental health rights. A 2014 survey from the Pew Research Center found 67 percent of Americans support providing addiction treatment to users of illegal drugs, and 63 percent say it is a good thing more states have moved away from mandatory sentences for non-violent drug offenders.

Mental Health Laws and Stigma

While some people still feel there is a stigma associated with mental illness and addiction, understanding about brain diseases has changed many people’s attitudes. Most Americans support the need for mental health treatments and current laws protect housing, employment and social rights.

Americans with Disabilities Act

One of the first landmark laws of the past 30 years is the Americans with Disabilities Act. Passed in 1990, the law protects people with disabilities from being discriminated against by federal, state or local governments according to the (SAMHSA). It also requires many private institutions, such as employers, to avoid discriminating against disabled people. The ADA defines people with a mental health or substance use disorder as disabled. Casual drug users are not protected by the ADA, but it does protect the following people:

  • A person who has successfully completed rehabilitation and no longer uses illegal drugs
  • A person who currently participates in a rehabilitation program and no longer uses illegal drugs
  • A person who is considered, erroneously, to be using illegal drugs

It also protects disabled people who receive public services from losing benefits in many cases and protects people from employer discrimination Along with the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the ADA prohibits an employer from refusing to hire a qualified applicant or firing or treating the person differently compared to other workers.

Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act

After decades of widespread debate in Congress, the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA) passed in 1996. While the law did not mandate widespread coverage of mental health disorders and addiction, it did offer relief to some groups and paved the way for further change according to a Milbank Quarterly article. The law requires all employers with mental health benefits to offer them at the same level as medical/surgical benefits and allows state mental health parity laws to require even more benefits.

Affordable Care Act

The most sweeping health care law of the past three decades, the Affordable Care Act, provides even more comprehensive coverage for mental health and addiction treatments. Passed in 2008, the law went into effect in stages and mandated that virtually all health insurers offer mental health and addiction benefits by 2014.

While a small number of plans are exempt from certain provisions of the law, most small employer and individual plans are required to offer the additional benefits. Large employers already offered the additional benefits. The ACA requires insurers offer substance use disorders and mental health benefits as part of 10 essential benefits. It also prevents insurers from denying coverage based on a person’s pre-existing condition even a past substance use disorder diagnosis. Together with the MHPAEA, insured Americans should pay comparable copays and other costs for mental health treatments as they do for medical/surgical treatments.

Coverage for individual treatment varies by insurer and state. While the law mandates addiction treatment, it’s important to understand ahead of time what will be covered. Many health insurers require that services be medically necessary and the definition of medical necessity is different depending on the diagnosis and insurer. Insurers still require a medical diagnosis and prior authorization for all mental health services, but most insurers must offer treatments such as psychotherapy and counseling.

Need Help Finding Addiction Treatment?

Addiction and mental health disorders affect millions of Americans, and too many people go without getting the help they need. In many cases, addiction treatment should include a variety of services including counseling to encourage behavioral changes and strategies to help a person avoid drug use and temptation. A program that builds on the skills learned during treatment is an important part of a person’s lifelong recovery plan. Effective treatment centers guide a person toward finding good aftercare options.

If you or a loved one needs help finding addiction treatment, our admission coordinators are standing by with information. Call our toll-free helpline 24 hours a day, seven days a week for guidance on the best steps toward treatment. Don’t wait any longer to lead a healthy life. Call today.