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News and Notes   |    
Parity Coverage for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment Signed into Law
Psychiatric Services 2008; doi:
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More than a decade of lobbying by advocates for improved health insurance coverage of mental health treatment has culminated in parity between medical-surgical and mental health and addiction benefits in all plans that offer mental health coverage. The Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 was included in the $700 billion financial rescue bill signed by the President on October 3. It is estimated that 113 million Americans will receive better insurance coverage for the treatment of their mental health and substance abuse problems because of the new law.

The law, which will take effect on January 1, 2010, for most health insurance plans, prohibits plans that are sponsored by businesses with 50 or more employees from imposing limits on the number of days of hospital treatment or the number of outpatient visits for the treatment of mental and substance use disorders that are different from those for the treatment of other medical conditions. The law also prohibits plans from applying different deductibles, copayments, out-of-network charges, and other financial requirements. It builds on the 1996 Federal Parity Act, which focused only on parity for lifetime and annual dollar limits.

Opponents of parity have argued that it would mean large increases in premiums for insurance holders. However, estimates indicate an increase of no more that .5%, based on the federal government's experience of implementing comprehensive parity for federal employees in 2001.

"This is an historic day that patients, psychiatrists, and other mental health providers have long awaited," said President Nada L. Stotland, M.D., M.P.H., president of the American Psychiatric Association. "This legislation is a reflection of the American public's recognition that mental illnesses are real and treatable and that fair coverage is to everyone's benefit."

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