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Poll: Most Californians lack knowledge about plans’ mental health benefits

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Less than 40 percent of Californians realize that health insurance plans generally cover mental health treatment as well as other types of medical care, according to a new Field Poll that found a lack of knowledge about mental health assistance and varying levels of willingness to seek it.

Conducted on behalf of the nonprofit California HealthCare Foundation, the poll found that more than eight in 10 Californians believe that treatment can help people with mental illnesses lead productive and healthy lives.

But only 38 percent of people realize that the federal Affordable Care Act generally requires most health insurance to include mental health, alcohol and drug treatment benefits. And almost one in five Californians say they wouldn’t use such services even if they were covered by insurance.

“An undercurrent throughout the poll is that people don’t recognize you can get covered for these services the same way you can for other medical services,” Field Poll Director Mark DiCamillo said. “People don’t fully recognize – even people insured – what their insurance has.”

Catherine Teare, senior program officer at the California HealthCare Foundation, said people only now are becoming aware that health plans that used to lack mental health coverage now include it. Even then, though, people have different access to mental health care, or perceive that they do, she said.

“The landscape has shifted significantly … so that many more people have access to mental health treatment than used to,” Teare said.

The poll of 2,013 Californians was conducted June 5 through June 22 in six languages and dialects. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.2 percentage points.