Although National Women’s Health Week has ended, the need for women to prioritize their health is ongoing. With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, many women now have more health services available to them at a more affordable cost.
For women with private health insurance beginning on or after September 23, 2010, the Affordable Care Act requires coverage of certain preventative services with no copay or deductible charges, according to the official government health-care website. For example, cervical cancer screening, birth control, well-woman visits, and screening for sexually transmitted illnesses are all preventative services now covered or soon to be covered under the Act.
Mental health–related preventative services are also covered, including domestic and interpersonal violence screening and counseling, alcohol misuse screening and counseling, and depression screening.
For children, there are even more mental health–related preventative services covered, including autism screening for children at 18 and 24 months old, behavioral assessments, depression screening, developmental screening for children under age 3 years, and alcohol and drug use assessments.
Of course, after a certain medical or mental health condition has been diagnosed, the cost of treating may still be unaffordable, but you will have the knowledge you need to begin to makes steps toward healing or at least preventing the progression of disease. For example, I just recently started taking advantage of my health insurance at my full-time job and realized, upon visiting the doctor, that my screenings for different health issues, including a well-woman exam and cervical cancer screening, did not cost anything extra. It was a nice surprise to find that I was, in a sense, being rewarded for taking care of my health and monitoring for any unnoticed health issues.
I also took the opportunity to have basic blood work done to make sure I didn’t have diabetes or another medical condition and found out I was deficient in Vitamin D. Pap smear results also showed that I had abnormal cervical cells. Being able to check for these issues at a young age has potentially helped me prevent further health issues down the road, such as any negative side effects related to Vitamin D deficiency and the potential development of cervical cancer. Delays in diagnosis and treatment of these issues could have resulted in negative mental and physical health outcomes.
Unfortunately, the next steps in prevention and treatment are not always affordable. For example, since I received abnormal pap smear results, I need to undergo a colposcopy, which could cost at least $300. To many people, this procedure could be unaffordable, which indicates that, while we have made progress in the process of helping people take charge of their health, we still have a ways to go.
Experts share their own insight into how the Affordable Care Act has impacted mental and physical health.
Ben Brafman, a licensed mental health counselor, certified addiction professional, and CEO and founder of Destination Hope, a women’s addiction and mental health treatment center, said in an email that although coverage of some preventative health services for people who have private health insurance is a positive step, it’s still not enough for many people.
“While I believe it will help some, I still don’t think enough is being done–there are other obstacles to care,” Brafman said. “It will help some people, but our health-care system is not set up to help those that truly need it. Unfortunately, mental health services still have to get over the hurdle of stereotypes and stigmas, and this act doesn’t address that obstacle to care.”
He believes taking advantage of medical health preventative services can help mental health, and vice versa.
“In theory preventative health services … will help mental health,” Brafman said. “Everything in health is interconnected. I call it the bio-pyscho-social model of living. Our well-being is made up of four interconnected areas: social well-being, physical well-being, mental-emotional well-being, and spiritual well-being.”
“As individuals we typically have ‘neuroses’ or a problem in one or two of these areas,” Brafman added. “Addressing a problem quickly, before it turns into a serious problem, is critical. That goes for physical and mental health. I’m a big believer in managing symptoms and not taking an all or nothing approach. Preventative health services can help identify the symptoms of mental illness and lead to symptom management.”
Jennifer Englerth, the chief executive officer of Family Health First, said in an email that the Affordable Care Act is moving health care in a positive direction.
“The passage of the Affordable Care Act has great potential to positively impact the physical and mental health of men and women primarily by ensuring access to affordable medical coverage options,” Englerth said. “Millions of Americans representing all segments of society worry about maintaining the affordability of their current coverage or maintaining their health because they are living without coverage. New and enhanced coverage options will not only relieve that burden but open the door to greater levels of preventative care and provide access to exciting new options in chronic disease management.”
While she agrees that there is still a long way to go, coverage of preventive services is at least a step in the right direction.
“All Americans should expect to be able to receive the right care at the right time,” Englerth said. “Unfortunately all too often this does not happen in our current system. While the ACA is not a magic bullet, it does remove barriers to preventive services and promotes the provision of high-quality care by the providers working within the health care system. Preventative care is often overlooked by provider and patient, but working together under this new structure, disease and illness can be more effectively detected and prevented.”
In addition, she emphasizes the mental–physical health link in preventative health care.
“Achieving good health today is often driven by behavioral decisions,” Englerth said. “Better understanding the link between mental and physical health in understanding and managing our behavioral choices will impact overall health positively.”
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