Insurance companies are using an infuriating loophole to deny mental health coverage

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Unless you're a golden retriever, this past year-and-a-half has probably taken a sizable toll on your mental health. In fact, 4 out of 10 American adults said they felt anxious or depressed since the pandemic began — compared to just 1 in 10 in 2019, according to research from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Even though more of us need therapy now than ever before, insurance companies and employers are figuring out slick ways to withhold mental health care coverage for workers who need it most, including public school teachers. At a time when our educators are managing an unprecedented level of stress, this seems particularly cruel.

To put it plainly, federal law requires insurers to design plans that treat mental illness similarly to physical conditions such as diabetes. These fairly new regulations stop companies from gouging people financially for behavioral or substance abuse care that they need, explains The New York Times.

But there’s a loophole that these insurance companies have been using — especially now, during times when money is tight for them — that is making it much more challenging for people to get affordable mental health treatment.

​​"Exemptions under state or local government coverage for employees like teachers and police officers and potentially illegal workarounds put in place by employers and insurers, coupled with lax oversight, have resulted in unequal access to care for millions of people," said Reed Abelson in the Times. There's a plethora of reasons why this is messed up, but most notably, this exemption is exploiting educators, who are literally preventing our society from collapsing.

Here's a little more on that aforementioned loophole in the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA) of 2008: That act mandates that insurance companies cover mental health, but it makes an exception for government employees. Apparently, providing sufficient mental health coverage would place too much of a financial burden on school districts and already limited government funds.

But laws need to be revisited as circumstances evolve. More teachers than ever before are quitting, largely because of the psychological toll the pandemic has taken. Considering how much we need a lot of these public workers right now, it's past time that this cruel and arbitrary exemption is re-examined.

Now, some legislators are pushing for the exemption to be removed, pointing out that the cost of providing mental health services to these employees is far worth it. If we value our public workers as much as we claim, those calls need to be joined by many others.