The Affordable Care Act (i.e. the ACA or “Obamacare”) has provided more support and access to treatment for children struggling with mental illness than any other health care reform law since Medicaid. Most importantly, the ACA championed the advancement of mental health parity, which is an idea that treatments for mental illness should be considered by insurance to be equal to treatments used for surgical or medical conditions. This is hugely important for children with mental illness—the acknowledgement that their illness and treatment is just as real and important as that of other children struggling with medical illnesses such as type 1 diabetes, cancer, or Crohn’s disease. The Affordable Care Act required that mental health and substance use disorders treatments were “Essential Health Benefits,” which is a list of services that must be equally covered by insurance plans without annual or lifetime limits.1) For the first time, the ACA also required health insurance plans to cover preventative services at no cost to patients and their families. These include screening for autism in children at ages 18 and 24 months, depression screening in adolescents, and alcohol and drug use assessments in adolescents.2)

Of particular significance for children with mental illness, the ACA prevents insurance companies from charging more or denying coverage to individuals with pre-existing health conditions.3) For example, a teenager who struggles with severe depression will not be denied coverage when applying for insurance later in life as an adult. Before the ACA, 1 in 7 individuals with pre-existing mental or physical health conditions was denied coverage.4) The ACA also enabled more people than ever before to afford insurance for their families. The ACA authorizes insurance premium subsidies for children in families not just below the poverty line, but those that have incomes up to 400% of the federal poverty level5) (in 2017, $47,550 for individuals and $97,200 for a family of four6) The ACA also established grants to fund clinics at schools, which will allow increased accessibility to care.7) These school-based health services will include mental health treatment and referrals, as well as comprehensive primary care for medical problems.8)

The strides that the ACA made in providing greater access to treatment for children with mental illness and requiring equal insurance coverage for these treatments need to be kept in place. With a new Congress in session, one of the top priorities is “repealing Obamacare.” Whether the ACA is repealed, replaced, or changed, saving these key mental health provisions and building upon them is vitally important for all children struggling with mental illness and their families. Please consider signing the petition, calling your representative, and learning more about these issues on our website at

References   [ + ]

1, 3.
5, 7, 8.