How Health Plans Are Helping Members Manage Their Mental Health
By Jason Bearden, CareSource Georgia Market President
Almost one in five American adults live with a mental illness, up to 51.5 million people in 2019, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Even with this staggering statistic, many of us have not been able to get a mental health checkup and treatment to feel better and stay mentally strong. Mental illness covers a wide array of conditions, ranging from depression and anxiety to more severe diagnoses, such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Those illnesses are a significant contributor to suicide, which increased 33% between 1999 and 2019. In 2020, it was the 12th-leading cause of death in our country.
Unfortunately, we still experience stigma around suicide that is mostly due to a lack of understanding about this complex public health issue. One of the biggest myths is that suicide affects only people with a mental illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 46% of people who die by suicide had a known mental health condition, but more than half of those individuals (54%) did not have an illness that was diagnosed by a health care professional.
September is recognized as National Suicide Prevention Month. That serves as a reminder for Georgians to schedule a mental health checkup with their health care provider and learn more about mental illness and suicide. Here's why:
Georgia has trailed the rest of the country in mental health services
Georgia ranked 31 in the country in the number of deaths by suicide (nearly 15 deaths per 100,000 people) in 2019. More than four times as many people died by suicide than in alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents that year.
Our state, however, ranks 48 in the country when it comes to providing residents with access to mental health care, according to Mental Health America. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention estimates that 58% of Georgia's communities “ did not have enough mental health providers to serve residents” in 2021.
New legislation will help those in need of mental health services
The good news is that our lawmakers have taken strong action by passing the Georgia Mental Health Parity Act. The landmark bill, which was signed into law by Gov. Brian Kemp on April 4, requires insurance companies to cover treatment for mental health and substance abuse services in the same way they would cover treatment for physical health.
Passage of the Georgia Mental Health Parity Act means that insurance companies must now provide coverage for mental health and substance abuse treatments on par with care for a sprained ankle or ear infection. (The new law also requires that Georgia adhere to the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, federal legislation that also requires insurance companies to provide coverage to treat mental and physical illnesses the same.)
Lawmakers included two important provisions in the Georgia Mental Health Parity Act to make sure insurance companies abide by the new rules. Those provisions:
- Provide a procedure that allows Georgians to file complaints with the state Office of the Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner and the Department of Community Health if they believe they have been unfairly denied coverage.
- Mandate that private and public health insurance providers submit data to the state that proves they are treating mental health and substance abuse services on par with physical health (the Act includes funding for a full-time position dedicated to enforcing parity).
Many individuals do not realize that they can turn to their health plan for help in finding a mental health provider that fits their needs. At CareSource, we also offer support to caregivers of individuals with behavioral health challenges. We have built strong partnerships with state-wide behavioral health organizations to increase awareness about mental illness and advocate for programs that can make a difference in peoples' lives. We provide resources like our Suicide Prevention Toolkit to mental health professionals, physicians and different organizations to help integrate suicide prevention strategies into their care plans. Our Stronger Together initiative, a youth and family person-centered recovery program, is grounded in evidence-based practices that bring additional case management resources directly to communities throughout the state.
The newly enacted 9-8-8 Suicide and Crisis Line is another resource for Georgians to consider for immediate connection to support. CareSource is working to educate members and health care providers about this resource.
Suicide can have a long-lasting impact on friends and family. Researchers found that 115 people are directly affected when a loved one dies, and that 20% of those people said it had a “devastating impact or caused a major-life disruption.” Now with the Georgia Mental Health Parity Act in place, everyone will have improved access to quality mental health care and treatment.
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