Federal Update: Mental Health and the Affordable Care Act

Earlier this month, the Obama administration issued long awaited rules on insurance benefits for people who need mental health or substance abuse treatment. This decision prevents health insurers from making co-pays, deductibles, pre-authorizations, and visit limits more restrictive for mental health and substance abuse disorders than they are for medical and surgical needs, and requires compliance from individual and both small and large group health plans.

This decision strengthens the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, “expanding mental health and substance use disorder benefits and parity protections to 62 million Americans,” according to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. It may also play a critical role in efforts to end homelessness, as the Seattle Times reports that “the expansion of treatment under the new rules also could help curb homelessness and jail overcrowding since the mentally ill account for a disproportionate share of street people and inmates.” By eliminating the perceived binary between mental and physical health services, many will receive critical assistance that was previously denied due to discriminatory practices.

To see the final rules, click here. A fact sheet is also available here.