Full mental health parity is now law

by Communications Staff

November 6, 2008 — When President Bush signed full mental health parity into law on October 3, the U.S. took a great step forward in the decade-plus effort to end health insurance discrimination against those seeking treatment for mental health and substance use disorders. This historic legislation requires that group health plans of 50 or more employees equally cover mental and physical health benefits.

Equity in coverage will apply to all financial requirements, including lifetime and annual dollar limits, deductibles, copayments, coinsurance and out-of-pocket expense, and to all treatment limitations, including frequency of treatment, number of visits, days of coverage and other similar limits. The new parity law takes effect on January 1, 2010.

"With the passage of this bill, insurance companies can no longer arbitrarily limit the number of hospital days or outpatient treatment sessions, or assign higher copayments or deductibles for those in need of psychological services," said APA Executive Director for Professional Practice Katherine Nordal, PhD.

The 2008 law closes several loopholes in the 1996 Mental Health Parity Act, which remains in effect through 2009. It preserves existing state parity and consumer protection laws while providing mental health services to 82 million Americans not protected by state laws. The new law also ensures mental health parity for both in-network and out-of-network services.

A summary of the new parity law appears in this issue. Also see questions and answers for psychologists about the law and how it will affect professional psychology.

Beginning more than a decade ago, the APA worked with Congress to achieve a full mental health parity law. Since its creation in 2001, the APA Practice Organization (APAPO) has kept up the push for parity in myriad ways. Learn how the APAPO has been in the forefront of advocacy to gain a full parity law.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 57 million Americans suffer from a mental health disorder. A 2008 nationwide survey by Harris Interactive commissioned by the APA found 25 percent of Americans do not have adequate access to mental health services and 44 percent either do not have mental health coverage or are not sure if they do.

Additionally, a 2006 survey from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that 49 percent of U.S. adults with both serious psychological distress and a substance use disorder go without treatment.

"Research shows that physical health is directly connected to emotional health, and millions of Americans know that suffering from a mental health disorder can be as frightening and debilitating as any major physical health disorder," said Dr. Nordal. "It's our hope that passage of this bill will force our health care system to finally start treating the whole person, both mind and body." Read more from Dr. Nordal about the positive impact the new law is likely to have.