HHS issues mental health, addiction parity final rule

The Obama administration on Friday issued a final rule increasing parity between mental health and substance abuse disorder benefits and their medical and surgical counterparts in health insurance plans nationwide. "This is the largest expansion of behavioral health coverage in a generation," said U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, NBC News reported.

The rule implements The Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, a law prohibiting insurers from restricting mental health and substance abuse benefits more than medical and surgical ones through features like deductibles, co-payments, and visit limits, according to a White House blog post.

"Americans deserve access to coverage for mental health and substance use disorders that is on par with medical and surgical care," said Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew in an HHS announcement. "These rules mark an important step in ending the disparities that exist in insurance plans, and will provide families nationwide with critical coverage and protections that fulfill their health needs."

Mental health and substance abuse treatment is one of 10 benefits mandated by the Affordable Care Act. Implementing the law may cause unparalleled growth in mental health and substance abuse treatment rates, as FierceHealthPayer previously reported, which may strain available resources.

Regulations specifying how parity manifests in treatment will be released next Friday. These would affect most Americans covered through individual and group plans, except for Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, the New York Times reported. However, the Obama administration has notified state regulators that Medicaid plans should meet parity requirements of the 2008 law, the Times noted.

America's Health Insurance Plans voiced its support for the final rule: "Helping patients get the care they need for physical, mental, and behavioral health conditions has been a top priority for our industry. Health plans have long supported the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Act and have worked to implement these requirements in a manner that is affordable, safe, and effective for patients," AHIP President and CEO Karen Ignani said Friday in a statement. "We appreciate that the final rule enables patients with mental and behavioral health conditions to continue to benefit from the innovative programs and services health plans have pioneered."

For more:
- check out the final rule (.pdf)
- read the NBC News article
- here's the White House blog post
- read the HHS announcement
- here's the New York Times article
- read the AHIP announcement