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Vast Majority of Americans Unaware of Improvements in Mental Health Coverage


Feb 09, 2011 03:19 PM CST by Donna Vaillancourt

The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, which went into effect in Jan. 2011, mandates that insurance companies provide the same coverage for mental health services as they do for physical health services.

Yet, according to a Dec. 2010 American Psychological Association (APA) survey, only 10 percent of Americans have even heard of the law, 29 percent don’t know whether their existing mental-health benefits are adequate, and 45 percent don’t know whether their insurance companies reimburse them for such services.

The APA survey, which included responses from nearly 3,000 US adults, was conducted online in December 2010 by Harris Interactive. The APA made the results public in a Jan. 24 press release.

It’s not unusual for changes in legislative policy to fall under the radar for many Americans. But these results are unsettling in a country where, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, a full quarter of the population has a diagnosable mental health problem, and only 33 percent of them receive treatment. Worse, two-thirds of those who do seek help do not receive adequate care.

“The implementation of mental health parity is a great milestone in recognizing that mental health care is just as crucial to a healthy life as prevention and treatment of physical ailments,” said Katherine Nordal, Ph.D., the APA’s executive director for professional practice. “But laws alone have clearly not been enough to put parity into full use. Our survey shows that too few Americans are aware of these new rights.”

Under the law, insurance carriers must extend behavioral health benefits to the 82 million Americans whose states don’t mandate such coverage, and they can no longer charge higher copays and deductibles for mental health services than they do for physical health services. In addition, they can no longer impose a cap on outpatient mental-health visits, since no such limits apply for visits related to physical health.

In the end, the news from the survey wasn’t all bad. Since 56 percent of respondents gave cost as a primary reason they did not seek help for mental health problems, the vast majority supported the changes under the new law.

“We need to communicate more effectively with employers and potential consumers of mental health services so that parity can be fully implemented and people can more easily obtain the services they need,” concluded Nardal.

The full report, “Your Mental Health A Survey of Americans’ Understanding of the Mental Health Parity Law,” (PDF) is available online.

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