You may have missed #22 of the 23 executive orders President Obama signed as part of his gun control package. It’s the second to last paragraph on the last page of his plan.
• Finalize requirements for private health insurance plans to cover mental health services: The Administration will issue final regulations governing how existing group health plans that offer mental health services must cover them at parity under the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008. In addition, the Affordable Care Act requires all new small group and individual plans to cover ten essential health benefit categories, including mental health and substance abuse services. The Administration intends to issue next month the final rule defining these essential health benefits and implementing requirements for these plans to cover mental health benefits at parity with medical and surgical benefits.
Finally, the President of the United States says he “intends” to draft rules to implement our 4-year-old mental health parity law. It’s not a promise but after four years of the administration failing to take action on the rules, I’ll take an “intends.”
What this means is that next month – February – we are finally going to see how the government will make sure that insurance companies provide the same level of care for mental illnesses as they do for physical illnesses. That means co-pays, deductibles, hospital stays, preventive care all must be equal to coverage for physical illnesses. Draft rules will be published in the Federal Register, followed by a public comment period and then issuance of the final rules.
Insurance companies don’t want these rules. As long as there are no rules, they can play their game, their way. No referees, no fouls, no penalties. That’s the way it’s been since the law was passed four years ago.
I have been writing about parity for five years. Maybe more. In the words of former Congressman Patrick Kennedy, son of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, mental health parity is the greatest civil rights health issue of our time.