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On Friday, the regulations implementing the standard known as mental health parity were issued. These health regulations will implement the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008. The late Senator Ted Kennedy was also a major force in the passage of that bill.
According to a report by Reuters, the regulations will apply to all employer-provided group health insurance plans of over 50 workers. Under the parity rules, group plans that offer mental health and substance abuse treatment cannot charge higher deductibles or place different limits on frequency of treatment than they would for medical and surgical care. In a statement to the press, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said, "The rules we are issuing today will, for the first time, help assure that those diagnosed with these debilitating and sometimes life-threatening disorders will not suffer needless or arbitrary limits on their care."
The new health regulations are considered a victory for fairness in insurance coverage for individuals with mental illness and substance use disorders, according to the American Psychiatric Association. One important issue that the APA is pleased to see included in the new rules is that of a requirement for a single deductible for mental health and medical/surgical coverage. Patients with mental illness often have general medical conditions that require treatment at the same time. Separate deductibles have in the past prevented access to mental health treatment.
However, the APA will continue to review the rules and provide feedback to the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Treasury during the 90 day comment period. APA President Alan F. Schatzberg, M.D., said, "The APA will continue to work hard and submit the important feedback to the Administration that is necessary to make sure our patients receive the care they need."
The new regulations could go into effect as early as July 1 of this year.