Mental Health Parity Final Regulations

Kitty Westin, MA LP

I applaud the thousands of grassroots activists in Minnesota and across the country who relentlessly pursued the Department of Health and Human Services to finalize the rules governing the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act that was passed in 2008. After five years, perseverance finally paid off with the announcement of the final rules on November 8, 2013. Since Mental Health Parity passed there continued to be wide gaps between how providers, consumers and insurance plans interpreted the bill. As HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius noted, “we are finally closing these gaps in coverage” with the release of the final regulations. One of the largest gaps allowed insurance companies to deny post-acute care for people who no longer need hospital services but continue to need intensive interventions like intensive day treatment or residential care. This gap left people who suffer from severe mental illness without the level of care they needed and, sadly, often resulted in recurring hospitalizations or even death. The final rule seems to say that if a health insurance plan covers things like chemotherapy (a post-acute oncology intervention after hospitalization) then it must cover residential treatment of eating disorders or substance abuse. I have been an advocate for better access to treatment of eating disorders for the past 13 years, and I see this as a major step in the right direction. I am smiling because I can imagine that people who suffer from psychiatric disorders and addictions will finally get the treatment they need to recover.