March 30, 2010; New York Times | According to this article, mental health advocates are thrilled about health care reform because it promises to significantly improve funding for the treatment of mental illness. In September 2009, NPQ covered the passage of the 2008 Mental Health Parity Act in an article entitled Advocacy in the Age of Obama. But the passage of health care reform has exponentially increased the potential to develop reasonable systems of care.

From this article in the Times, “A lot of this still has to play out in terms of how parity works,” said Michael J. Fitzpatrick, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, an advocacy group. But the new law “can change the mental health system in America and really give families and individuals an opportunity to get a level of access to care we could only fantasize about before this became law.”

According to researchers, people with mental illness are more likely to be uninsured, but the landmark Mental Health Parity law passed in 2008 promised only to prevent insurance companies from discriminating (in their deductibles and caps on payments) between physical and mental illnesses and only when their policies already covered mental illness.

The Reform Act now promises far more system wide access as the uninsured become covered. This, of course, brings up many of the same questions about the readiness of the system—particularly in terms of service providers. It will be interesting to watch how this field progresses faced with a truly phenomenal challenge! I recommend reading the article in NPQ referenced above for a rundown of the remarkable history and community-based effort behind the passage of the Parity bill and some of the concerns the service systems may face.—Ruth McCambridge