Regulators have to do more to make sure that two major federal laws already on the books really improve access to mental health care insurance benefits.
Witnesses delivered that message today in Washington at a hearing on the state of the U.S. mental health care system that was organized by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
The committee organized the hearing in response to the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., to look at how the United States might be able to improve the way it manages psychological problems that lead to violence.
Pamela Hyde, the administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), noted at the hearing that “most people who are violent do not have a mental disorder, and most people with a mental disorder are not violent.”
“Demographic variables such as age, gender and socioeconomic status are more reliable predictors of violence than mental illness,” Hyde testified, according to a written version of her remarks posted on the committee website. ” These facts are important, because misconceptions about mental illness can cause discrimination.”
Patients and their families now get 69 percent of the cash used to pay for mental health care from state and federal government programs, 12 percent from their own personal resources, and 27 percent from private insurance plans, Hyde said.
One of the major laws governing private health insurance benefits for mental health care, the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA), affects insured and self-insured group health benefits.
The MHPAEA does not require an employer to offer coverage for mental health or substance use disorders.
If an employer with 50 or more employees does offer mental health or substance abuse benefits, then the financial requirements and treatment limits for the behavioral health benefits can be no more restrictive than the typical requirements for benefits for other types of disorders.
The federal departments in charge of implementing the MHPAEA — the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Labor Department and the U.S. Treasury Department — put the law into effect with temporary regulations in July 2010. A lack of final regulations interferes with efforts to enforce the law, critics say.