Questions Linger About Implications of Mental Health Parity Law
Approval of federal mental health parity legislation last week stands as the end result of 10 years of lobbying efforts, but some mental health advocates harbor concerns about potential side effects, the Washington Post reports.Â
The provision was included in the $700 billion economic rescue package that President Bush signed into law last week (Jenkins, Washington Post, 10/10).
The legislation (HR 1424) requires group health plans of 51 or more employees to cover mental illnesses at the same level as physical ailments. It does not require the plans to offer such coverage but it must be equivalent if they do (California Healthline, 10/6).
For most health plans, the law will take effect Jan. 1, 2010.
According to the Post, supporters of the measure say change in coverage requirements for health plans "represents a fundamental shift in how the mentally ill are treated" and "an important step in erasing the stigma often associated with such illnesses as post-traumatic stress disorder or anxiety-related conditions."
Doug Walter, counsel for legislative and regulatory affairs at the American Psychological Association, said, "This is absolutely milestone legislation for those people who have mental health and substance abuse problems," adding, "It ends the discrimination against people who have long needed the help."
However, the law has "significant limitations," the Post reports.
Health plans that do not already cover mental health treatment will not be required to do so, and health plans also are not required to provide coverage for every mental health condition published in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders by the American Psychiatric Association.
In addition, some supporters of the law have expressed concern that the law could prompt some businesses to eliminate mental health benefits.Carol Ulrich, a member of the Virginia Commission on Mental Health Law Reform, said, "Small businesses may say that they can't afford, or think they can't afford, to offer mental health coverage" (Washington Post, 10/10). This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.