Harvard Mental Health Letter

In Brief: Updates about mental health parity

In Brief

Updates about mental health parity

In February 2009, President Obama signed a law that renewed the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), which provides coverage for children in families whose incomes are too high to qualify for Medicaid coverage, but too low to afford other types of insurance. For the first time, SCHIP includes a mental health parity provision, which stipulates that coverage for mental health services is offered at the same level as other medical services. The provision is meant to end higher copayments, restrictions on clinician visits, and other types of discriminatory restrictions.

Medicare will begin phasing in parity for mental health coverage starting in 2010, with full parity offered by 2014. A study by researchers at Brown University suggests that lowering copayments will help increase access to care.

The researchers analyzed the records of 43,892 Medicare beneficiaries who were hospitalized for psychiatric problems during a five-year period (2001 to 2006). Patients whose Medicare plans provided equivalent coverage for mental health and general medical outpatient visits were more likely to receive follow-up care between seven and 30 days after hospital discharge when compared with patients without full parity coverage.

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