California Mental Health Parity Law Produces ‘Mixed Bag’ of Results in First Two Years
The Sacramento Business Journal last week examined the state's mental health parity law, which some say could become a model for the nation but has produced a "mixed bag" of results in the first two years. The law (AB 88), passed in 1999, has led to increased access to mental health services for patients with lower out-of-pocket costs, and concerns about large health insurance premium increases "were not borne out," the Business Journal reports. However, the law has contributed to a "fragmentation" of the mental health services market. Many large health plans in the state contract with "carve-out" companies that specialize in behavioral health services, a trend that has led to "new complications and obstacles" for patients. According to a study released in February by Mathematica Policy Research, the shift to managed behavioral health companies has "disrupted care" for some patients, a problem "exacerbated by poor communication" and a "short lead time" to prepare for the new requirements in the mental health parity law. The study also found several additional problems:
- The decision to limit the law to eight "serious conditions" has led to "confusion" and administrative problems.
- The role of the private sector in the provision of mental health services to children with "severe emotional disturbances" under the law requires clarification.
- Patient education about the expanded mental health benefits provided under the law requires improvement.