A day many have been waiting for comes January 1st!

Greg Sturgill lives in Lynch, Ky and is active with the Harlan County KFTC Chapter. He has served as a registered nurse for 23 years and wrote this after reading Cara Stewart's article on Kynect and the Affordable Care Act in a recent edition of Balacing the Scales.

With January first rapidly approaching, I look forward to a battle that has been very near and dear to my heart coming to a satisfactory resolution.  Effective January 1st, under the Affordable Healthcare Act, not only can practically every American receive much-needed healthcare, no longer can they be discriminated against with minimal or non-coverage due to pre-existing health conditions, regardless of whether or not they had previous coverage.  It’s a day many hard working Americans, rich, poor or middle-class have been waiting, in some cases, their whole working lives for!

Additionally, the end of 2013 saw new rules for healthcare enacted by the Obama administration that will increase coverage and opportunities for those in need of care for mental illness.  When new gun legislation failed to pass, this new order was imposed to aid in the mental health and substance abuse care of some 62 million Americans.

Under the new rules announced November 8th, mental and substance abuse treatment will now be treated the same as any medical illness:  for example, when you come to the hospital with a severe illness, chest pain, shortness of breath, etc. you are usually admitted at least for observation, with the insurance companies contacted on the next business day.  For psychiatric care, patients suffering from severe manic or depressive, even psychotic episodes often had to wait for approval from the insurers (in some cases, up to 24-48 hours).

Another advantage to the new rules is that patients are no longer tied to “in-state” or local psychiatric treatment and can leave the state if they want just like for cardiac or cancer care.

While Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius talks of patients perhaps being comfortable enough to say they are going for counseling the same as they say they are going for lab work or a flu shot, I fear the reality of the stigma of mental illness may still be the greatest hurdle to treatment yet.

One thing we must do as a society is help break down this stigma of mental illness so needed treatment will be sought and thus provided.  While most studies put the prevalence of mental illness at 1 in 5 adults (1 in 4 in metropolitan or economically depressed areas), a 2008 study by the National Institute of Health revealed that a mere 13.4% of Americans seek treatment for these illnesses, far below the 20-25% suffering from these illnesses.

The survey also revealed that out of all of those receiving treatment, over 70% were over age 50 which again may indicate a social stigma and reluctance for younger people, particularly those 21-45, to seek treatment. 

The new healthcare laws are exciting to many of us in the healthcare field or with loved ones needing additional coverage.  However, education is a must for the populous to break-down the stereotypes that may prevent them from obtaining the mental health or substance abuse treatment they need.

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