Landmark victory: Mental health parity is now law

by Public Relations Staff

October 3, 2008 — President Bush signed mental health parity into law today, taking a great step forward in the decade-plus fight to end insurance discrimination against those seeking treatment for mental health and substance use disorders. This historic legislation requires that health insurance equally cover both mental and physical health.

Congress passed the legislation as part of a new bill that also includes tax extenders, changes to FDIC and the controversial financial rescue plan. The House passed the legislation today by a vote of 263-171. On October 1, the measure passed the Senate by a vote of 74-25.

“With 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 Dr. Katherine Nordal, the American Psychological Association’s (APA) executive director for professional practice.

For over a decade, the APA has worked with Congress to achieve a full mental health parity law ending discrimination in health insurance coverage against those suffering from mental health disorders.

The 2008 bill closes several of the loopholes left by the 1996 Mental Health Parity Act and extends equal coverage to all aspects of health insurance plans. It preserves existing state parity and consumer protection laws while extending protection of mental health services to 82 million Americans not protected by state laws. The bill also ensures mental health coverage for both in-network and out-of-network services.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 57 million Americans suffer from a mental health disorder. According to a 2008 nationwide survey by Harris Interactive in conjunction with the APA, 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 Agency 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.”

The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world’s largest association of psychologists. APA’s membership includes more than 148,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.