Health care reform requires coverage of mental health, substance abuse by 2014

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In Sacramento Tuesday state lawmakers held a briefing on the ways federal health care reform will affect mental health services in California. Most Californians will get some type of coverage in about three years - but the details are still in the works.

In this country, 9 million uninsured adults suffer from mental illness or substance abuse disorders. The federal Congressional Budget Office estimates that health care reform will provide medical insurance to more than half of them.

Don Moulds with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that will go a long way toward getting people the care they need. "A much higher percentage of the uninsured have mental illness than the general population. Same story with substance dependence and substance abuse."

Federal law also makes mental health and substance abuse treatment “essential services” insurance plans will have to cover starting in 2014. But some mental health advocates wonder how sufficient the coverage may be.

Sacramento Assemblyman Dr. Richard Pan is a former pediatrician. He told federal health care administrators he’d like the government to reward employers who offer mental health care benefits for people with conditions that can result in medical consequences, "because if you attract people with mental health conditions you then drive up the mountain you pay for physical health costs."

The Obama Administration is drafting regulations to carry out federal health care reform. A federal appointee at the state hearing advised California lawmakers to express their concerns and offer suggestions now - before Washington proposes specific regulations on how states should carry out reform.