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Mental Health Parity

April 12, 2021
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WRITTEN BY Dr. Joshua Mueller

Historically, health insurance plans have classified mental or behavioral health benefits, such as substance abuse counseling or access to antidepressant medication, separately from other medical or surgical benefits, such as routine physician visits or access to antibiotics. In 2008, the U.S. Congress passed the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA), prohibiting large private and public sector employers from offering insurance plans that place stricter limits, such as the number of provider visits, on mental health benefits than on traditional medical or surgical benefits. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010, extended these parity requirements to individual and small employer plans, and required insurance plans to include mental health benefits. In order to define these mental health benefits, specify parity protections, and provide avenues for state-level enforcement of these standards, state legislatures have passed their own mental health coverage and parity laws. HB 889 and SB 80 would prohibit health insurance plans in the state, with some exceptions such as supplemental or short-term major medical policies, from applying stricter limits on mental health benefits than to medical or surgical benefits.

Highlights

  • As of 2015, 26 states, including Arkansas and Illinois, have enacted mental health parity laws.
  • Two federal laws mandating mental health parity, the MHPAEA and PPACA, and state level parity laws have been shown to increase mental healthcare access and utilization, particularly in youth, low-income, and low-education populations.
  • Mental health parity laws also increase the treatment rate for substance use disorders, decrease the suicide rate, and reduce traffic fatalities involving intoxicated drivers.

Limitations

  • State-to-state outcomes may vary after enacting mental health parity laws based on the level of mental healthcare use prior to their enactment, and demographic factors such as age, education, and income.
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