Consistent and regular treatment of mentally ill people in the Quad-Cities is seen as one of the biggest benefits of the Affordable Care Act, or ACA, mental health advocates say.

"This is really going to help the people who come through our doors," said Caroline Vernon, the coordinator of the Scott County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, in Davenport.

"A lot of folks do not get the care they need as they don't have insurance," she added.

An aspect of the federal health legislation commonly called Obamacare ensures that people with mental illness get treatment on the same level as those with medical or surgical needs.

That population is expected to benefit in two ways: More of them will be covered by expanded Medicaid programs in both Iowa and Illinois, and those who purchase health insurance on the state marketplaces will find that it covers their diagnoses as well as the prescription medication they need.

The expanded Medicaid program in Iowa, for example, is called the Iowa Health & Wellness Plan. It is expected to include about 150,000 individuals now that enrollment has begun. An estimated 10 percent to 12 percent of the 150,000 are expected to be people with mental illness.

The big shift, state official Rick Shults said, is from a system that was based on a person's disability to a system that will be based on income.

"This will touch individuals who didn't meet the disability threshold; they now will be eligible for coverage because of the income requirements," added Shults, who is the administrator of the Division of Mental Health and Disability Services at the Iowa Department of Human Services.

The plans in Iowa cover individuals who are 19 to 64 years old and now include low-income, childless adults. Many of the new enrollees are expected to be men.

Iowans with an income up to 100 percent of the federal poverty guideline ($11,490 for an individual and $15,510 for a family of two) will receive the same benefits as state employees, with their insurance premiums being paid entirely by federal Medicaid money.

Iowans who have a yearly income between 101 percent and 133 percent of the federal poverty standards (up to $15,281 for an individual and up to $20,268 for a family of two) will seek private coverage via the Iowa Health Insurance Marketplace, which opened Tuesday.

The Robert Young Center for Community Mental Health, affiliated with UnityPoint Health Trinity, expects the Affordable Care Act will provide more services to more people.

Dr. David Deopere, the president of the center for 28 years, anticipates that most people will qualify through the Medicaid expansion.

"My understanding is that for those with mental illness and addictions issues, this will be a boon," he said. "This will make services accessible for a large part of the population." 

However, Deopere added that not all individuals will buy into the new insurance coverage, suggesting that some will still report to hospital emergency departments for care.

Yet, there will be much more accessibility to mental health and chemical dependency services with the Affordable Care Act fully implemented, and that is a good thing, Deopere said.