Commentary: How the Affordable Care Act can help Social Security
By Bruce Lipsey
For the Patriot Ledger
At the end of November, CBS came out with the latest poll on Americans’ view on health care. Perhaps not surprisingly, given all that’s transpired, approval ratings are the lowest they’ve been since CBS started polling on the Affordable Care Act – a measly 31 percent – while disapproval ratings have jumped to 61 percent.
To me, this hot-button topic is closely linked to another provocative topic – Social Security disability. The effective implementation of Obamacare will do a lot toward decreasing the number of individuals who need assistance through Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Let me explain.
Mental illness can absolutely become a disabling condition that would make one eligible for assistance such as SSDI. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “Over 11 million (24 percent) of U.S. adults affected by mental illness have no health coverage. Uninsured adults are more than twice as likely to delay or skip medical care, leading to serious health issues, problems on the job, and use of emergency services or hospitalization.”
New changes brought about by health care reform will positively impact those who suffer from mental illness but are currently unable to seek treatment due to a lack of health care coverage. Under Obamacare, they cannot be rejected due to a pre-existing condition, including mental illness. In addition, mental health treatment must now be covered at the same level as other physical health issues. And there is no lifetime limit on mental health care, incredibly important given the fact that, again according to NAMI, “for anyone who has mental illness … recovery is an ongoing process. Gaps in treatment due to limits on care can be harmful.”
Granted, there are those who will argue that, just because a person is able to receive treatment for a mental health issue doesn’t mean he or she will. Likewise, just because someone receives treatment doesn’t mean he or she will go out and look for a job. That’s potentially true. There is abuse throughout SSDI, and discussions about the types of abuse and how to combat it are worthwhile, but for another time. Through the Affordable Care Act, it’s possible to decrease the numbers of people legitimately collecting SSDI because these individuals who now depend on SSDI because their mental illness makes it difficult to hold a job have the opportunity to receive the mental health care they need. And some will jump at the chance.
In fact, a July 2011 Mental Health Treatment Study prepared for the Social Security Administration by Westat demonstrates that those who suffer from mental illness and who are offered treatment are not only more likely to accept this treatment, but also then take steps to improve their quality of life. In this specific study, the hypothesis that access to health care and employment services would enable those suffering from schizophrenia or an affective disorder to return to work proved true. These SSDI beneficiaries in the study secured and held jobs (at higher levels and with higher incomes than the control group), and improved their mental health.
Connecting the dots isn’t rocket science. The Affordable Care Act provides more people expanded access to mental health care. The more people who suffer from mental illness but can receive treatment, the more likely they will want to and be able to secure and retain jobs. And those who have jobs do not need to collect financial assistance from SSDI.
It’s obvious that the Affordable Care Act has a long way to go before people embrace or even understand the individual benefits the new health coverage can offer. But parity for mental health treatment – and the associated benefits that come along with such treatment – will lessen the number of disability cases that go before Social Security.
Bruce S. Lipsey is a Social Security disability attorney and partner at Epstein, Lipsey & Clifford P.C. in Hanover. A graduate of Brown University and Suffolk Law School, Lipsey is a member of the Plymouth and Norfolk County Bar Associations, as well as the Massachusetts Bar Association and the Federal Bar Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.