Thanks to a ruling on group health insurance, Minnesota employee benefit plans will continue to include limits on coverage for mental health that equal those for medical and surgical procedures.
The ruling applies to what is known as the Mental Health Parity Act, or MHPA. As its name suggests, it declares that any employee group health plan in the nation must cover mental health treatment at levels equal to other kinds of medical treatment.
Minnesota employee benefit plans will be affected by the extension. Thanks to the Mental Health Parity Act, or MHPA, it is illegal for group health insurance plans covering workers to put ceilings on coverage for mental health treatments at levels lower than those for medical and surgical treatments.
Mental health treatments covered are stays in psychiatric centers (mental hospitals) or the mental health sections of medical hospitals for treatments of illnesses including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, or schizophrenia. It also includes visits to mental health professionals such as psychologists, licensed therapists, or psychiatrists. Stays in “rehab” for drug and alcohol abuse are covered.
When the law was first passed in 1996, a “sunset clause” was written in, requiring that it expire on September 31, 2001. Five amendments since that time have extended the date of expiration.
Before the enactment of MHPA, limits on mental health plan coverage might much lower than corresponding limits on surgical or medical treatment coverage. Any such disparity is illegal under MHPA. In short, group health plans must pay for mental health coverage to the same degree they cover medical care.
Because 150 million U.S. employees are covered by group health plans, the MHPA – and its recent extension – have a broad impact on the workforce.
The Employee Benefit Security Administration (EBSA) is the enforcing federal agency. It was originally created in 1974 to oversee enforcement of the Employee retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) of 1974. Since then it has gained sub-cabinet level status and its mandate includes health care as well as pension oversight. The upgrade came in 2003. It is now under the auspices of an Assistant secretary of Labor.