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White House Boosts Insurance Coverage for Mental Illness

FRIDAY, Nov. 8 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. health officials unveiled long-awaited rules Friday that require insurance companies to cover treatment for mental illnesses and addiction the same way they cover physical illnesses. The regulations will make the 2008 Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act a reality, and fulfill a generation-long effort to improve benefits and treatment for people with mental health issues or substance abuse problems.

Co-pays, treatment limits and deductibles can't be more stringent for people with mental illness than for people with a physical illness, under the new rules. This means insurance providers "can't say you can only get substance-abuse treatment in state but you can go anywhere for medical/surgical" treatment, a senior Obama administration official told The New York Times. Nor can insurers deny coverage for someone with a history of depression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, anxiety or other common conditions.

The rules will affect most Americans with health insurance, including health plans bought under the Affordable Care Act of 2010. However, the regulations may not apply to people covered by Medicaid, the publicly funded insurance program for the poor, or Medicare, which provides coverage for seniors, the Times reported.

This "incredibly important law, combined with the Affordable Care Act, will expand and protect behavioral health benefits for more than 62 million Americans," Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, said at a health conference in Atlanta. "People who either have insurance coverage now and have no mental health coverage or where the Affordable Care Act fills in those gaps for people who have no insurance at all, they will be able to access affordable care."

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