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Sec. Sebelius announces new rules for mental health parity

In 2008, Congress passed a law called the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act. The law was intended to help remove the stigma of mental illness within the medical industry. It required medical professionals and insurance companies not to provide lesser care for mental illnesses compared with physical conditions.

While this law would seem to have been good news for people in Columbia living with mental illness, in practice the MHPAEA made little difference. For whatever reason, the law has hardly been enforced since then-President George W. Bush signed it. Now, five years later, the Health and Human Services Department is hoping to put some muscle behind the law by adding new rules.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced the new regulations on Nov. 8. Among the most important changes will be that health insurance companies will have to charge similar co-payments and deductibles for mental health issues as they already do for physical illnesses. The amount of care they offer must also be equitable. For example, it will no longer be acceptable for an insurer to only authorize two days in the hospital for a psychotic break when it allows a 30-day hospital stay after a stroke.

The effects of these new rules could be tremendous. Sebelius predicted that the new rules, along with portions of the Affordable Care Act, will expand health coverage for more than 62 million people.

Certain complications, such as the number of mental health professionals who do not take insurance, could continue to make mental health care expensive for many Missouri residents. However, this move could improve care for millions of people across the country.

Source: CNN, “Feds boosting mental health access, treatment,” Jen Christensen, Nov. 12, 2013

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