Mental Health Parity Rules Coming Soon
Published: Jul 24, 2013
By David Pittman, Washington Correspondent, MedPage Today
WASHINGTON - The Obama administration will release in a few months final rules implementing the 2008 mental health parity law, a former Congressman said Wednesday.
The law - the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act - states that health plans must cover the treatment of mental illness or drug or alcohol abuse at the same level as they cover other healthcare treatment.
But full scale-up of the law has been delayed because rules haven't been issued outlining treatment limits for some nonquantitative services - rules that would define exactly how mental health services are comparable to physical medical care.
That will soon change, former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), now a mental health advocate who is working with the Obama administration, told reporters in a conference call.
"I've been informed the rule will be coming out early this fall," said Kennedy, who also publicized a mental health forum he's hosting in October.
Kennedy, who authored the parity law in 2008, said Wednesday he has worked on the rules with Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, along with officials from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, especially since a June event on mental health issues at the White House.
The eight-term congressman also announced "The Kennedy Forum," an October event in Boston that will bring experts together over 2 days to discuss advances in mental health and substance abuse treatment, the impact of health reform and the Parity Act on treatment, and other issues.
Kennedy said he hopes the event will help further elevate the need for treating mental health and substance abuse through prevention and community support.
With the release of the final rules on the Parity Act expected before then, Kennedy said the event will allow stakeholders to take stock of the rules and what they mean for patients and providers.
The Obama administration issued an interim final rule in February 2010 on some quantitative metrics health plans can use to ensure parity between mental health and physical health services such as caps on out-of-pocket costs. But nonquantitative treatment limits - such as how much behavioral therapy would be needed for a particular patient - were left undefined, holding up full implementation.
As part of his proposals to stem gun violence, Obama declared earlier this year that HHS would issue the last of the parity rules.
Health plans have been unsure which mental healthcare services should be deemed medically necessary, since such services are often less clearly defined compared with traditional medicine.
Kennedy, who has admitted to his own battle with prescription drug addiction, has used his time since leaving political office to advocate for mental health and addiction disorders. His One Mind for Research organization is a nonprofit that seeks to coordinate national research on brain disorders, including Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Kennedy said he hopes between the expanded access the Affordable Care Act provides, together with the equal coverage granted from the Parity Act, will help overcome the stigma and barriers to mental health treatment.
"We hope the implementation of health reform will be an opportunity to end discrimination against mental illness once and for all," Kennedy said.