Quora Question: Break Down Barriers to Mental Health Treatment, Kaine Says

Democratic U.S. vice presidential nominee Senator Tim Kaine. Reuters

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Answer from Tim Kaine, vice presidential candidate:

Despite the fact that more than 40 million adults and nearly 17 million children in America are coping with a mental health condition, there has long been a stigma and shame around these issues. Unfortunately, that stigma has made its way into our health care system.

Health insurance providers and employers have historically covered mental health and addiction differently than treatment for other medical conditions. As a result, patients face far too many barriers when trying to access the mental health services they need: Higher out-of-pocket costs, longer waiting periods and limited in-network providers in their communities.

In response to this clear discrimination, Congress passed the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (Parity Law), which Hillary Clinton co-sponsored. The law requires mental health benefits under individual and group insurance plans to be equal to benefits for other medical conditions. President Obama built upon the Parity Law by requiring that insurance plans offer mental health coverage as an essential health benefit in the Affordable Care Act.

But parity is sadly still not a reality for individuals living with mental illness and addiction today. Unfortunately, these laws are too often ignored or not enforced, and as a result, millions of Americans still get turned away when they need help the most. Patients are twice as likely to be denied coverage by a private insurer for mental health services as they are for general medical care.

Barriers like these are simply unacceptable for anyone seeking treatment for mental health. When it comes to mental health, help should be immediate — and focused on treatment, not judgment.

There's no quick fix to eradicating the stigma in both our country's culture and laws. But we can start fixing the system by enforcing mental health parity to the full extent of the law—including strengthening federal monitoring to make sure insurers are complying and making it easier for patients to file a complaint when their rights are violated.

It's time we make sure every American gets the quality mental health care they need—without shame, without stigma and without the barriers. That is what Hillary and I intend to do in office. Hillary has worked on these issues for decades, and she has a plan to address the problem head on, once and for all.

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