WASHINGTON — Five years after the passage of a groundbreaking law establishing equality between mental health care and other medical treatments, the Obama administration announced its final rule Friday defining how that treatment must be provided.
The rule requires insurers to charge similar co-payments for mental health treatment as they would for physical ailments. It also makes clear that deductible and visit limits are generally not more restrictive for mental health and substance abuse care.
"This final rule breaks down barriers that stand in the way of treatment and recovery services for millions of Americans," said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. "Building on these rules, the Affordable Care Act is expanding mental health and substance use disorder benefits and parity protections to 62 million Americans. This historic expansion will help make treatment more affordable and accessible."
The announcement came as Sebelius attended a mental health conference at the Carter Center in Atlanta. Former first lady Rosalynn Carter has long been a proponent of mental health parity and was heavily involved in lobbying for the law.
HHS says the rule also includes several other consumer protections, including ensuring that parity is applied to care received in residential treatment and intensive outpatient settings, and clarifying that parity applies to all health care plan standards, including geographic limits and facility-type limits.
About 26% of Americans 18 and older have a diagnosable mental disorder every year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
"The rule will really dictate how parity gets implemented," said former representative Patrick Kennedy, who worked with his father, late senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, on the Mental Health Parity Act. "We need to, most importantly, have the attitudes in the right places that this is something that's really going to revolutionize care."
In 2008, Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed into law the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Act, which demands that mental illnesses be treated the same as other illnesses. The argument: Those who have cancer are not denied care after 10 visits if they are not healthy; those with depression should also not be denied care if they are not healthy.
The rule change announcement was made jointly by HHS and the Treasury Department.