The latest updates to the federal and Maine USERRA regulations specifically address an important concern of many service members: health care for themselves and their families. When it comes to health insurance coverage, workers heading off to active military duty need to continue their insurance for the first 30 days. These regulations are especially applicable to members of the Reserve and National Guard who are called to active duty. For the first 30 days, the insurance should be the same as the worker had before he or she left. Assuming the worker’s family was covered by an employer’s group health care plan, they should continue the coverage for at least 30 days. After 30 days, soldiers can elect to use military health care for both themselves and their families. Soldiers can keep their health insurance coverage through their employer for up to two years if they so desire.
The Veterans’ Employment and Training Services, also known as VETS, has released changes to the rules, so many employers will have questions about Maine USERRA. Among the changes that will impact Maine workers are updates to the 1994 Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act.
Now is a great time for every employer to update their Maine USERRA poster. Additional protection is given by USERRA to disabled veterans. Reasonable job accommodations are required of the employers of disabled veterans. Moreover, if a soldier is injured, even if that injury happens during training, the soldier has two additional years to return to his or her job.
Changes to the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, known as USERRA, now allow federal government employees to file claims with the Veteran’s Employment and Training Services, VETS, a US Department of Labor division.
Another change to the rules provides coverage under the USERRA for federal government employees, with a special appeal process.
Maine employee benefit has no legal provision for mental health coverage. Although there is a substantial number of employers who do provide mental health coverage as a part of group insurance, but there are many who do not. Even inpatient or outpatient treatment in a hospital may or may not be a part of your health plan.
But in case an employer does offer mental health coverage as a part of a group insurance plan, there are several laws governing it. One that merits special mention is Mental Health Parity Act or MHPA. The Mental Health Parity Act requires that any group health insurance plan that funds mental health treatment, cover it at the same level as other medical treatments, including surgery.
The MHPA has undergone several amendments since its enactment. It was passed in 1996 with a provision to expire on September 30, 2001. Numerous extensions followed, and in February 2007, it was extended up to December 31, 2007. Considering the history of amendments and extensions in MHPA, it would be safe to assume that this law will remain in effect for quite some time to come.
Before 1996, many healthcare plans had very small provisions for mental health coverage. For instance, a plan that provided $100,000 for surgery could have only a provision of only a thousand dollars for mental health. Such small amounts could barely cover counseling, let alone more thorough treatment. But thanks to MHPA, it would be illegal now to have such small provisions for mental health. The law requires that mental health treatments must receive parity with other types of treatment.
A large number of American citizens with insurance are covered by employee benefit plans. The federal government has a dedicated agency to enforce the laws regarding employee benefits and pension plans. It is known as the Employee Benefits Security Administration, or EBSA. More than 150 million workers are covered under EBSA plans. The current name reflects the reality that the agency now handles as many violations of law concerning health care as pensions.
In 2003, the Employee Benefits Security Administration, or EBSA, the federal agency in charge of employee issues, was upgraded and became supervised by an Assistant Secretary of Labor. Created in 1974, the current name of the agency reveals its reason for existence. That is, to enforce the laws relating to employee healthcare and retirement funds.
One of the laws that EBSA must enforce is the Mental Health Parity Act, or MHPA. This law recently received an extension, signed by the president. The new expiration date is December 31, 2007. MHPA was first approved in 1996 and it was originally planned to end on September 31, 2001. But, it received 5 postponements.
More than 150 million US workers are covered by group health insurance plans. The EBSA is responsible for enforcing the MHPA. The first name of the EBSA was the Pension and Welfare Benefits Program, because its first mission was enforcement of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. The name was changed in January 1986 to the Pension and Welfare Benefits Administration, or PWBA. The current name was changed in 2003.
Is it illegal for a healthcare plan to provide lower benefits for mental health treatments than for other types of treatment? Today the answer is “Yes”. If the same question were asked prior to 1996, the answer would be “No”. Actually, it is illegal because MHPA requires that if a group health insurance plan includes coverage of mental health treatments, the plan must offer the same coverage it does for other types of treatment. Today it is not possible to offer an insurance plan that provides up to $100,000 per year for medical treatments and only $5,000 per year for mental health treatments.
Most plans that cover mental health include diverse treatments. Some may be related to addictions, like drugs or alcohol, and the coverage must pay the rehabilitation. Others may be psychiatric conditions, like schizophrenia. Disorders related to depression or post-traumatic stress may also be covered. Many of the treatments require admission to mental heath wings of hospitals or mental health clinics, while others are done on an outpatient basis.