WASHINGTON, DC –Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) applauded the Obama administration’s decision to enact rules that remove financial barriers to mental health insurance coverage. The rules, which will take effect on July 1, require group health plans provide enrollees the same level of mental health and substance use benefits as those offered for medical and surgical services. Senator Cantwell was an original co-sponsor of the legislation that paved the way for this new policy, the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA). The decision to implement the rules was announced last Friday by the Departments of Health and Human Services, Treasury, and Labor. Under the new requirements, copayments for mental health and addiction services cannot exceed the charges an individual would pay to visit a family doctor or medical specialist. The new rules also bar separate annual deductibles for mental health treatment, further reducing the out-of-pocket costs for those in need of vital mental health and substance-abuse services. For the requirements to apply, the health plan must first offer mental health coverage.
“I have long supported mental health coverage parity and was proud to have helped enact the legislation on which these rules are based. The recently announced rules are really a matter of basic fairness and I hope provide a tremendous relief for many Washingtonians coping with mental health challenges,” said Cantwell. “While there are still improvements to be made, such as providing this parity to those who receive their health insurance through small group and individual plans, I am pleased to see the administration taking this first step to guaranteeing those with mental health needs will receive the same level of coverage as those with physical ailments.”
Approximately 140 million Americans in more than 450,000 employer plans will benefit from the implementation of the MHPAEA rules. The Congressional Budget Office determined that providing these additional mental health benefits would only raise employer-sponsored premiums by less than half of one percent. The rules will take effect on July 1, with final comments due in early May.