Final rules released for mental health parity law

Photo of mental health spelled out in blocks
Mental Health Parity Final Rules

After nearly five years, the Obama Administration announced final rules for the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, which prohibits insurers from providing mental health services to a lesser extent than services for physical injuries.

“New efforts are underway to expand coverage to the millions of Americans who have lacked access to affordable treatment for mental and substance use disorders,” said Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez, the former head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, in a news release. “These rules will increase access to mental health and substance abuse treatment, prohibit discriminatory practices, and increase health plan transparency. Ultimately, they’ll provide greater opportunities for affordable, accessible, effective treatment to Americans who need it.”

The law, passed in 2008 with bipartisan support, had largely stalled since many of its promised benefits are accomplished by the Affordable Care Act. The law gained momentum after the Sandy Hook Massacre, when President Obama announced his administration would finalize the rules as part of a 23-point executive plan to reduce gun violence and improve mental health services.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness celebrated the final regulations, though it told the Associated Press that it is concerned that the regulations do not apply to some vulnerable populations, including people receiving services through Medicaid managed care plans or the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

“The regulations are a crowning achievement. They are the result of a 20-year bipartisan campaign by individuals and families affected by mental illness to end unfair discrimination that led to enactment of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act in 2008,” NAMI Executive Director Michael J. Fitzpatrick said in a news release. “They are essential to implementation of what is now the law of the land.”

The Affordable Care Act requires all insurance programs to cover mental health treatment by 2014, as one of 10 essential health benefit categories that must be included in all plans.