Mental Health Parity Law Turns Ten Years Old

Mental health is an important part of our well-being. Thanks to the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA) of 2008, most health insurance plans that cover mental health must provide the same level of coverage for mental as for physical healthcare.

October 3, 2018, marks the tenth anniversary of the MHPAEA. That federal law requires most plans that cover mental health and substance abuse services to offer the same level of coverage for those services as they do for medical services. For example, if you pay a $20 copay for a medical visit, the copay must be the same for a mental health appointment. If your insurance covers out-of-network treatment, it must do so for both mental and physical care. The same is true for other benefits, such as hospitalization and prescription drugs.

Not All Plans Cover Mental Health

Most health plans offered by employers are required to cover mental health treatment. So are most plans offered by the Health Insurance Marketplaces or Exchanges operated by the federal government and many states. But, some types of health plans don’t have to cover mental healthcare. They include association health plans (AHPs). Those are insurance plans that allow small businesses, including people who work for themselves, to band together to buy insurance. Another type of plan that doesn’t have to cover mental healthcare is short-term, limited duration (STLD) health plans. Those plans offer coverage for up to a year and may be renewed for one or two more years.

The MHPAEA applies to most AHPs. So, if an AHP does cover mental health, it must provide the same level of coverage as for physical health. But, the MHPAEA doesn’t apply to STLD plans. They aren’t required to offer equal coverage for mental and physical health.

Planning for Mental Healthcare

Fall is open enrollment season, when you can sign up for new health insurance or make changes to your current coverage. (See Fall Is Open Enrollment Season in this issue of FAIR Health Consumer Access.) When making those decisions about a health plan, find out if the plan covers mental healthcare. And, find out whether it covers mental and physical healthcare at the same level. Those are important questions to ask to protect the mental health of you and your family.

If you do need mental healthcare and want to plan for the costs, you can use FAIR Health’s free Medical Cost Lookup Tool. That tool will give you estimates of how much mental health treatments cost in your location.

For more information on mental health parity and mental healthcare, see our Insurance Basics article on Mental and Emotional Health.