Few Americans aware of mental health parity law

Although the federal mental health parity law took effect on January 1, 2011 for most employer-sponsored plans covered by the law, an APA survey finds that 89 percent of Americans have not heard of it

by Public Relations Staff

February 14, 2011 — An overwhelming majority of Americans remain unaware of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 or are familiar with the term “mental health parity,” according to a recent American Psychological Association (APA) survey.

The survey revealed that 89 percent of Americans said they had not heard about the law, and only a scant seven percent of respondents said they recognized the phrase “mental health parity.” In the APA survey, which was conducted online by Harris Interactive among 2,940 adults in December 2010, nearly one-third of adults (29 percent) said they don’t know if they have adequate mental health coverage and 45 percent said they are unsure if their insurance reimburses for mental health care.

The APA Practice Directorate developed the survey to get a better understanding of what Americans know about parity and about their mental health coverage. The mental health parity law went into effect on January 1, 2011 for most employer-sponsored plans covered by the law.

“The implementation of mental health parity is a great milestone in recognizing that mental health care is just as crucial to a healthy life as prevention and treatment of physical ailments,” said APA Executive Director for Professional Practice Katherine C. Nordal, PhD. “But laws alone have clearly not been enough to put parity into full use. Our survey shows that too few Americans are aware of these new rights and too many people have avoided treatment because of costs. And without that knowledge, people may keep not getting the care needed for themselves or a family member.”

Several media outlets and websites reported on the survey’s findings. Two trade publications, Mental Health Weekly and Drug and Alcohol Abuse Weekly, interviewed APA staff about parity and the survey. Other coverage included The Hill, a Washington D.C. publication read by lawmakers and Congressional staff. More than half of respondents (56 percent) selected cost of care as a reason they or a family member might give for not seeking treatment. The other commonly selected reasons pointed to a need for improved communications about mental health treatment: not knowing how to find the right professional (42 percent) and not knowing if seeking help is appropriate (40 percent).

And while stigma is often considered a deterrent to seeking professional mental health care, only eight percent of adults cited stigma as a top reason for not seeking treatment. An equal number reported their top concern as privacy or confidentiality.

“It’s clear that we need to communicate more effectively with employers and potential consumers of mental health services so that parity can be fully implemented and people can more easily obtain the services they need,” Nordal said.

In conjunction with the survey’s release, APA posted a list of consumer resources regarding mental health parity on the APA Help Center webpage. 

A summary of the survey findings is available.