By Michael Slevin, LCSW-C
In many of our lives, health insurance was not always something we could count on. Oftentimes it seemed like a luxury. We’d change jobs and lose our health insurance. We’d develop a serious illness and get dropped from our health coverage. The recession hit our employer and we ended up working part-time jobs that didn’t offer benefits. It’s been tough for many of us. And while there are many reasons people don’t get regular check-ups or go to their doctor when they don’t feel well or don’t seek help if their emotional well-being is suffering, one of the biggest reasons has been the inability to pay.
All that is changing this fall. Right now, there are 800,000 uninsured Marylanders. Starting October 1, everyone in Maryland can – in fact, is required – to sign up for some form of health insurance, made affordable by a new national law, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare. You may get your insurance through your employer, Medicare or Medicaid (expanded by increasing income eligibility and, for the first time, adding to the rolls low-income, single, childless adults), or through a privately-arranged policy. If not, you will be able to buy your insurance through a program called Maryland Health Connection. You will be able to start receiving benefits on January 1, 2014.
Here’s how it is described on their easy to understand Web site, www.MarylandHealthConnection.gov: “You will be able to shop on Maryland Health Connection, make apples-to-apples comparisons and determine your eligibility for financial assistance (tax credits) to reduce the cost of your monthly insurance premiums. A single, streamlined application will determine your eligibility for Medicaid or private insurance and walk you through the process. Consumer assistance will also be available through our call center or in-person throughout the state in Local Health Departments, Departments of Social Services and a network of consumer assistance organizations known as ‘Connector Entities.’”
The new law will bring big changes in mental health care, too. You may be taking care of a parent who has Alzheimer’s, and need some help managing new realities and conflicting emotions. Your child may be struggling and acting out at school. Your self-esteem has taken a hit as you search unsuccessfully, so far, for that first career job. You’re trying to juggle child care and work responsibilities as a single parent. But you haven’t had anyone to turn to for help in sorting out your emotions and keeping you from getting derailed, because you haven’t had health insurance. And of course, those stresses and challenges in life can take a big toll on both your physical and mental well-being.
Right now, even for those with insurance for physical illness, mental health benefits are often lacking. The ACA, however, requires mental health benefits, and requires that they be as good as those provided for surgery and other physical ailments. That means the same copays and no limit on the number of visits each year. You cannot be denied coverage because your need for therapy started before you signed up.
Starting January 1, money may still be tight, but you’ll have insurance and you can get the help you need. You’ll be able to address problems before they become overwhelming, whether it’s a physical issue, or concern that someone close to you is showing signs of anxiety or depression, or that the stresses of caregiving or work are starting to feel unmanageable. The Affordable Care Act gives each of us the opportunity to take better care of our own physical and mental health, and at the same time to take better care of our families.
By Michael Slevin, LCSW-C, Therapy Services, Jewish Community Services, Baltimore, MD
To learn more about how JCS can help you solve life’s puzzles please visit our home page or call 410-466-9200.