What Fox's Kirsten Powers Gets Wrong About Maternity And Mental Health Coverage

Kirsten Powers

Fox News contributor Kirsten Powers attacked the new health care law for requiring all new insurance plans to cover essential services such as maternity care and mental health care, ignoring the fact that individuals with these conditions are often discriminated against in the insurance market and that requiring coverage for these services will help the economy and reduce economic insecurity.

On the November 12 edition of Special Report, Powers complained that under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), health insurance plans are now required to cover benefits such as maternity care and mental health care, despite the fact that an individual might not ever need to use these services:

POWERS: The idea that they think that 50-year-olds should have maternity care is very concerning to me. You know, people are being forced to pay for things that they will not use. It is not for them to tell people -- I don't need to be told I need to have mental health coverage. If I wanted it, I would have gotten it. And I think people are getting a little fed up, even Democrats, with this stuff.

In fact, without the ACA's requirement that essential health benefits be covered by new insurance plans sold on the exchanges, Powers may not have been able to get mental health coverage or maternity care if she wanted it. Individuals who needed those services before the law's passage were routinely discriminated against while trying to obtain necessary health insurance, by being required to pay significantly more for coverage, left unable to get a plan offering specific coverage, or rejected from health insurance all together.

As CNNMoney explained, previously insurance companies were able to keep costs down for many by offering plans without some essential benefits, like maternity care and mental health services, and cherry picking “among applicants to only pick the healthiest ones.” The New York Times reported that in 2011, “62 percent of women in the United States covered by private plans that were not obtained through an employer lacked maternity coverage,” and a Washington Post columnist explained that according to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), nearly 20 percent of people currently in the individual market have “no coverage for mental-health cases, including outpatient therapy visits and inpatient crisis intervention and stabilization.” (Approximately 57.7 million Americans experience a mental health condition per year, and half of all Americans will experience one in their lifetime.) Many individual market insurance plans did not offer these services.

The entire concept behind the Affordable Care Act was to change this, ensuring that all Americans, regardless of their personal finances or current health states, could have access to quality, comprehensive health insurance that covered their needs. The law thus mandates ten essential health benefits -- including maternity care and some mental health services -- that all new insurance plans must include at minimum for every American.

Powers' argument also ignored that requiring insurance companies to cover these essential services in all health plans has significant economic benefits.

As Wonkblog explained, taking on a more robust health insurance policy can reduce an individual's financial risk, and a Center for American Progress analysis showed that because women are currently charged more for health insurance that can exclude maternity care and other benefits for women, they have “higher out-of-pocket health care costs than men and are also more likely to experience medical bankruptcy.” These higher health costs contribute to families' overall economic insecurity -- a problem the new health law helps to fix.

Moreover, increased coverage of mental health conditions will help the economy. Untreated mental health conditions have cost the U.S. more than $100 billion a year in lost productivity, as mentioned in a Scientific American editorial, an enormous economic toll. Dr. Carol Bernstein, of New York University's School of Medicine and a past president of the American Psychiatric Association, explained to PBS' Newshour that without health insurance people with mental health conditions often go untreated, causing them to be sicker for longer and costing the system more as it prevents them from working. USA Today noted “HHS has argued that addressing mental health issues in a stable way could cut health care costs in the long-term because people are less likely to end up hospitalized, are more likely to finish college or get good jobs, and are more apt to participate in their communities.”

Just because Powers doesn't personally need these services doesn't mean millions of Americans should be denied their benefits.