Mental Health America Calls for
Public Education on
Mental Health Parity Law
Wellstone-Domenici Act Goes Into Effect January 1
Contact: Steve Vetzner, (703) 797-2588 or email@example.com
ALEXANDRIA, Va. (December 28, 2009) - Mental Health America today called for intensive education efforts to inform the public about the benefits of the new federal mental health parity law (the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act ), which becomes fully effective this Friday, January 1.
The law, which Congress passed in October of 2008, broadly outlaws health insurance discrimination against Americans with mental health and substance use conditions in employer-sponsored health plans.
It bans employers and insurers from imposing stricter limits on coverage for mental health and substance use conditions than those set for other medical conditions. The law benefits 82 million Americans covered by self-insured plans and another 31 million in plans that are subject to state regulation. (Fact sheets and background information can be viewed here.)
Mental Health America, which worked for years to pass the law, said public education efforts will ensure Americans are aware of their rights. A recent review of the experience with California's mental health parity law concluded that public education campaigns are needed to inform individuals about the law and that those efforts could also help reduce the stigma around mental health conditions. It also recommended a system be established to monitor not only cost and coverage issues, but access to and quality of care.
"Parity is a milestone, but given how integral mental health is to overall health we have to raise public awareness," said David L. Shern, Ph.D., president and CEO of Mental Health America. "With economic problems making it even harder for Americans to afford treatment and driving up rates of depression and family difficulties, the new law is especially important."
Mental Health America has also urged the three federal departments charged with writing implementing regulations (Labor, Health and Human Services, and Treasury) to reflect the clear Congressional intent of the law. The regulations, which were expected to be published by this fall, are now not likely to be issued until January.
Dr. Shern said employers should embrace parity and recognize the value of providing mental health and substance use care. The findings of at least one recent survey suggest that few employers will drop mental health coverage because of the new law.
"The passage of parity recognized that we have to address mental health and substance use issues with same urgency and on the same level as other medical problems," he said. "Those who believe parity is costly are making a huge mistake. The real cost is not treating mental health and substance use conditions."
A number of studies have found that equalizing specialty behavioral health and general medical benefits will not increase total health care expenses at all or will increase them by only a very modest amount. In a landmark report, the National Business Group on Health said the indirect costs associated with mental health and substance use conditions-excess turnover, lost productivity, absenteeism and disability-commonly meet or exceed the direct treatment costs, and have been estimated to be at lest $105 billion annually.
Dr. Shern said the passage of parity has helped elevate the attention paid to mental health and substance use during the health reform debate. Both the House and Senate health reform bills would require that newly issued health plans offer an essential benefits package that includes mental health and substance use services. A parity requirement would also apply to these new plans.
Mental Health America is the country's leading nonprofit dedicated to helping all people live mentally healthier lives. With our century of service to America and our more than 300 affiliates nationwide, we represent a national movement that promotes mental wellness for the health and well-being of the nation - everyday and in times of crisis.