MA expands mental health coverage requirements

A new law has gone into effect in Massachusetts that expands existing limits on care for a new group of mental health disorders, sparking warnings from some observers that the price tag may be more costly than expected.

The new measure, which went into effect July 1, now requires health plans to add four new conditions--eating disorders, addictions, autism and post-traumatic stress--to an existing list of nine common psychiatric conditions health insurers must cover as they do physical ailments. Until now, treatment for drug addiction might have been limited to, say 24 outpatient sessions and 60 days in a hospital, but now plans must cover such care as needed.

Of course, with every coverage expansion comes controversy, and this is no exception. Supporters of the change, who have looked at data from other states, say they expect the new rules to add less than 1 percent to overall health expenditures and reduce the indirect costs of mental diseases. And Massachusetts regulators are projecting that the new rules should increase insurers' spending, currently at $13 billion per year, by a scant $13 million to $39 million a year.

Meanwhile, employers and health plans argue that the real costs should be much higher, though they don't have any projections of just how much higher in hand. The state's health plan group argues that it won't know what the impact of this law will be for about two years.

To learn more about the new law:
- read this piece from The Boston Globe

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