By Whitney McFadden
AMSA Health Policy Chair
The Mental Health Parity Act and Addiction Act originally signed in 1996 and expanded by George W Bush in 2008 was established to create equity in health insurance coverage of mental health benefits. The law increased access to care, however many gaps in coverage remained and the laws were not enforced. The law established equal coverage so that co-pays could not be higher for mental health care, there were no differences in the number of visits covered, and the coverage was expanded to substance abuse treatment.
The preliminary ruling for mental health parity was established in 2010, however over 5,000 comments had to be addressed before the regulations could be put into effect. This process occurred during the introduction of the ACA and requirements for the bill were put on the back burner while the comments were addressed. Some new requirements addressed intermediate care coverage of patients who do not require hospitalization, but cannot be treated as an outpatient. Additionally, the limits on location of care were removed making insurance companies liable for payment if care was found outside the state.
The Mental Health Parity Act is not predicted to increase health insurance costs and if implemented correctly, will provide more affordable care when patients seek mental health services earlier. This is thought to result in better outcomes, less time in the hospital, and less time lost in the workplace.
These changes in coverage come at a time when the ACA is transforming the environment for insurance companies. These changes echo the already expanding market for coverage regardless of pre-existing conditions. This “incredibly important law, combined with the affordable care act, will expand and protect behavioral health benefits for more than 62 million Americans” says Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary. The new regulations will mirror plans already in place in the ACA and emphasize the importance of comprehensive mental healthcare on our nation’s psyche.