The new federal mental parity law seems to be having a noticeable effect on employers’ health plan designs.
John Dicken, a director at the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), writes about the early impact of the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA) in an MHPAEA report prepared for several House and Senate committees.
MHPAEA replaces an earlier mental health parity law enacted in 1996.
Neither law requires an employer to offer mental health or substance abuse benefits. Both laws affect only employers that choose to offer behavioral health benefits along with other medical benefits.
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The 1996 law required any mental health and other medical benefits offered to be similar.
The new law imposes more detailed parity rules, extends the parity rules to substance abuse problems, and calls for plans that violate the MHPAEA parity requirements to pay fines of up to $100 per enrollee per day.
GAO investigators tried to look at the early effects of the new law by conducting an employer survey. The investigators sent out 700 survey forms and collected just 168 usable responses.
The survey results do not necessarily represent how all employers are doing, but they provide some information about what is happening at the participating employers, Dicken says.