When people ask about Arkansas employee benefits, mental health coverage is one frequently asked question. Many people ask if any state or federal law requires insurers to cover mental health treatments. Others want to know if insurers can set a low limit on payments for this type of treatment. The answer is that there is a bill, in force since 1996 that regulates some aspects of this issue.
This law is The Mental Health Parity Act (MHPA), which requires that any group health insurance plan that covers mental health treatments, must offer the same coverage as for other medical treatments.
But that is only a part of the answer, because at the same time there is no law that compels any health insurer to cover mental health treatments.
A recent extension sets December 31, 2007 as the new deadline for the MHPA bill. It was approved for the first time in 1996, when the law included an expiration date of September 30, 2001. Since then, the deadline has been extended 5 times. The last extension was in February 2007 and the law will be still in force until the end of 2007.
By all indications, this bill will be extended one or more times.
Before the MHPA was approved, many group healthcare plans paid low annual amounts for mental health treatments. Some health insurance, for example, paid up to $1,500 per year for mental health treatment but paid up to $100,000 for surgery.
Today the law requires that any plan offering mental health coverage pay the same amount for both types of treatment. The old disparity in payments are illegal.
Most employees are covered by comprehensive benefits plans provided by their employers. Many of them cover include mental health treatments. On the other hand, a number of employers offer healthcare plans that don’t cover any expenses related to mental health.
Many violations of law about healthcare are now being handled by the Employee Benefits Security Administration, or ESBA, a federal government agency. More than 150 million workers are covered under plans administered by this agency.