Suicide can be a tragic end to a person’s struggle with mental illness. It can also be a sign that the health care system has failed.
In North Carolina, suicide is one of the top five causes of death.
For many people, the battle with mental illness begins with therapy and prescription drugs, but this treatment is not cheap. A patient suffering from depression might be prescribed an antidepressant such as Prozac, which costs over $470 for a year’s supply.
Patients with mental illnesses may also incur costs from hospital visits for self-inflicted injuries. One study found that between 2004 and 2008, the cost of hospitalization for self-inflicted injuries in NC totaled $315 million.
So does the Affordable Care Act help lessen these costs for those suffering from mental illnesses?
Under the Affordable Health Care Act, an estimated 270,000 people in North Carolina who are currently uninsured would have access to coverage through the Pre-Existing Condition clause which ensures that those with pre-existing illnesses cannot be turned down when applying for insurance.
There are also options for patients to receive mental health services regardless of their insurance coverage. The Alliance Behavioral Healthcare Center, which operates in Durham and Wake County, is one of the places that provides such care.
“We have patients who have Medicaid, which is federally funded. We also have state and county funding,” said Doug Fuller, a spokesman for Alliance Behavioral Healthcare Center. ”We match the needs of patients with their eligibility for funding.”
People can call the center 24/7 every day of the year for help. A crisis line, operated by trained clinicians, is always available for those in need.
“People going into a crisis situation are at the most vulnerable time in their lives,” Fuller said. “Obviously we try to provide them with the help that they need regardless of if they have insurance or not.”
The center is set to combine with Behavioral Health Centers in Cumberland and Johnson County in January 2013. That move will bring the large military population of Fort Bragg under the ABH umbrella.
Veterans in North Carolina have a suicide rate of 29.6 per 100,000. That is twice the suicide rate as civilians, according to the Burden of Suicide study.
Veterans are eligible for TRICARE health care, VA health care, and Medicare and Medicaid for those over 65.
The Affordable Care Act will not have much of an effect on VA Health Care, explained Peter Tillman, public affairs officer at the Durham VA.
“The provisions of the Affordable Care Act upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court will not affect the current role the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has in the lives of America’s Veterans,” Tillman said in an email. “We will continue to provide veterans with high quality, comprehensive health care and benefits they have earned through their service. VA health care does not change as a result of the ACA.”
But one way that the act could affect VA healthcare is that it will offer insurance exchanges. Insurance exchanges are state-based competitive marketplaces where individuals and small businesses will be able to compare prices to get more affordable health care.
The act will also provide coverage for all of the 1.3 million veterans who are currently uninsured nationally. There are 54,000 uninsured veterans in North Carolina.
Veterans suffering from mental illness can call the veteran-specific suicide hotline Vet2Vet Veterans.
Another savings offered by the Affordable Care Act is greater availability of generic drugs commonly used to treat mental illness. This will make medications less costly for patients. For example, the cost of one year’s supply of Prozac would drop from $470 to just over $100, saving the patient $300 a year.
Although the Affordable Care Act does not directly target suicide prevention, its provisions for mental health care could help to reduce the suicide rate in North Carolina.
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