Mental health parity rules draw praise from psychiatrists

NEWS IN BRIEF — Posted Feb. 22, 2010

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The Depts. of Labor, Treasury, and Health and Human Services unveiled interim final rules on Jan. 29 for the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, which was signed into law in October 2008.

The law prohibits most group health plans that offer mental health and substance abuse benefits from restricting them -- through higher cost-sharing or treatment limits -- more than medical or surgical benefits. The regulations will apply to health plans starting on July 1, according to an HHS release. The Coalition for Fairness in Mental Illness Coverage, a group of mental health advocates that includes the American Medical Association, supported the passage of the final bill.

The interim final rules do not allow health plans to restrict access to mental health care by using prior authorization or utilization review. The rules also require a single, combined deductible for mental health and other medical benefits, which drew praise from the American Psychiatric Assn. and the National Assn. of Psychiatric Health Systems. But America's Health Insurance Plans spokesman Robert Zirkelbach said some employers offer separate plans for medical and mental health benefits, so new systems now must be developed to handle a single deductible.

The APA has created a Web site for physicians and patients to report possible violations of the act (link).

More information about the regulations, including how to submit comments, is also available online (link).

Comments are due by May 3.

Note: This item originally appeared at

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