As discussed in Samantha Gerencir’s recent post “Making Mental Health Parity a Reality – the Challenge Continues,” patients seeking coverage for mental health conditions continue to face an uphill battle. For many years, the health care system has prioritized coverage for physical ailments over behavioral health issues.
Now more than ever, we are aware of the close interplay between mental and physical health. Historically, our health care system has too often turned a blind eye to mental health conditions—simply treating and providing coverage for physical ailments and sending patients on their way. Health insurance companies both reflected and exacerbated this problem, providing no or wholly inadequate coverage for mental health services. The 2008 passage of The Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act—commonly known as the Parity Act—was a giant leap forward in outlawing discrimination by insurers against mental health services. Under the Parity Act, if a health plan covers both medical/surgical conditions and behavioral health conditions (i.e., mental illnesses or substance use disorders), it must provide benefits for both types of conditions “at parity” – that is, on an equal basis. This means, for example, if a plan covers routine outpatient services in a doctor’s office to treat medical conditions like strep throat, it must also provide comparable coverage for outpatient services in a therapist’s office for treatment of depression or an opioid addiction.