World Health Day – Accessible, Quality Health Services Are a Human Right

This year’s World Health Day theme is, ‘My health, my right,’ and centers on “the right of everyone, everywhere, to have access to quality health services, education, and information.” Overdose Lifeline advocates for inclusivity and accessibility regarding health care. Everyone should have access to quality health services, education, and information without fear of discrimination. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for many people struggling with mental health issues or substance use disorders (MH/SUD). 

We see firsthand how difficult it is for people with SUDs to ask for the help they need due to stigma. We also see how insurance is a barrier to treatment due to the disparity in health benefits for mental health/SUDs compared to medical/surgical benefits. This is why we work to remove these barriers, giving people dealing with SUDs the health care services and resources they are entitled to as human beings and under the law.

Legal Framework for MH/SUD Equity 

According to the WHO Council on the Economics of Health for All, at least 140 countries recognize health as a human right in their constitution. That being said, there aren’t enough laws passed to ensure access to high-quality health services. In some cases, there are laws in place, but whether these laws are enforced is another story.

For example, the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (or the Parity law) was passed in 2008 and was meant to ensure individuals with mental health or substance use needs receive comparable coverage to those with medical conditions. The federal law originally applied to group health plans but was amended to extend provisions to individual health plans as well. While this law is well-intentioned, mental health and substance use parity is still not a reality and many people are denied care in times of crisis.

Enforcing the Law in Pursuit of Parity

The Kennedy Forum (TKF), an organization dedicated to transforming the way mental health and SUDs are treated in the healthcare system, continuously lobbies for the full implementation and enforcement of the MHPAEA. Led by former Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy, who was also the lead author of the MHPAEA, TKF holds insurance companies accountable to comply with the law. 

TKF calls for the federal and state governments to enforce the Parity law publicly. They work with policymakers to create clear regulations and guidelines to implement the Parity law in the commercial market, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. TKF also believes in educating the public on their rights under the Parity law and providing people with the resources they need to be informed when asking for care and filing an appeal when care is wrongfully denied.

Removing the Stigma to Improve Access

Overdose Lifeline has long advocated for removing the stigma around SUDs. Changing the language used around addiction helps remove barriers to getting help, improving access to lifesaving care. Removing the stigma helps overcome the stereotypes and lack of empathy that prevent people from getting the care they need.

Pushing Health for All This World Health Day

Advocating for MH/SUD parity is a tough battle requiring persistence and commitment. However, it is a necessary fight in pursuit of establishing adequate MH/SUD care options, resources, and access. We thank WHO for bringing this issue into focus for this year’s World Health Day and we’ll continue to do our part in improving access to lifesaving treatments and health resources for all.

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