Will mental health coverage become a routine part of care?

    Got questions about the Affordable Care Act? WHYY/NewsWorks Health and Science Desk provides “The Short Answer.”

    Question: This thing I’ve been hearing about called “integrated care” — does that include mental health? Answer: Yes. Mental health care is supposed to become part of routine healthcare.

    Got questions about the Affordable Care Act? In a regular feature, the WHYY/NewsWorks Health and Science Desk is providing “The Short Answer.”

    Today’s question

    This thing I’ve been hearing about called “integrated care” — does that include mental health?

    The short answer

    Yes. Mental health care is supposed to become part of routine healthcare.

    More details

    The vision for the future of routine health care has a lot to do with a concept known as “medical homes” — mental and physical health care are connected, or even provided in one place.

    Mental health-care and physical health-care providers might be located in the same office. During routine visits, primary care doctors could check their patients’ weight and heart rate, and discuss sleep, diet, etc., but they could also ask a few questions about mental health. If there are any red flags or questions, a patient could see a mental health professional right then and there. No waiting two months for an appointment in a different place.

    One of the goals is to reduce stigma. If mental health care becomes part of routine care, patients may feel more comfortable talking about their issues. Another goal is to catch problems early, so they are easier to treat. Finally, there is a big connection between mental and physical health, so this approach connects all members of a care team.

    Donna L. Torrisi is a nurse, and director of the Family Practice & Counseling Network in Philadelphia, which has been integrating care for two decades. She said having physical and mental health professionals in one place makes her job easier.

    “If we’re not taking care of their depression or anxiety, or their insomnia, they won’t be able to take care of their diabetes or asthma,” Torrisi said. “You just don’t have the mental energy to take care of such daunting physical problems if you are struggling with emotional issues.”

    Mental and physical health care have been mostly separated for decades. Health-care reform restructures payments to allow health-care professionals to get reimbursed for prevention and care management, so they could actually bill for these services.

    The challenge for those professionals will be to break out of their long-standing silos of care, and start to talk to each other.

    The 2010 health law goes into full effect Jan. 1, 2014. How will it affect you, your wallet and your health? Email your questions to healthandscience@whyy.org or tweet us @newsworksWHYY.

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