Administration Issues Interim Final Rules Implementing Mental Health Parity Act

Law Should Help Boost Access to Mental Health, Addiction Services, Says FP

February 03, 2010 05:20 pm Hannah DeClerk

The Obama administration has issued interim final rules for implementing The Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008. HHS will be accepting public comment on the rules, which were published Feb. 2 in the Federal Register, until May 3.

"The rules we are issuing today will, for the first time, help assure that those diagnosed with these debilitating and sometimes life-threatening disorders will not suffer needless or arbitrary limits on their care," said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in a Jan. 29 news release( "I applaud the longstanding and bipartisan effort that made these important new protections possible."

HHS, the Department of the Treasury and the Department of Labor jointly issued the interim final rules, which take effect on April 5.

As previously reported in AAFP News Now, the law does not require businesses to cover mental health and addiction services. However, if a business with 51 or more employees offers coverage for mental health services, it is required to provide the same level of mental health and substance disorder benefits, with respect to financial requirements and treatment limitations, as it does for medical/surgical benefits.

According to comments( submitted last May to the Labor Department by the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare, the new law will result in mental health and addiction services parity for about 113 million Americans.

The AAFP has a longstanding policy on achieving parity between mental health care and other types of health care services. The Academy's position notes that improving mental health care treatment requires enhancing the ability of the primary care physician to treat and be appropriately paid for providing that care, which the new law achieves.

Donald Nease Jr., M.D., an associate professor in the department of family medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, said he views the legislation as being very important for family physicians and their patients with mental illness or substance abuse issues. Family physicians often provide a trusted first point-of-contact for patients seeking mental health services, he said.

"Mental health problems are common among our patients, and lack of access to medication and consultation is a real barrier to care for these patients," said Nease, who also is an associate professor at the University of Michigan Depression Center and a researcher in mental health and primary care health information issues. "These rules will, hopefully, put mental health coverage on a level playing ground with physical health problems for those with group health insurance."