Workers in Nebraska employee benefit plans will feel the impact of a ruling on group health insurance that guarantees equal benefits for mental health and physical health treatment.
The so-called Mental Health Parity Act (MHPA) has been extended through December 31 of 2007. The law signed by the President assures that all U.S. health insurance plans in the nation offering health care to workers must fund mental health treatment at the same level they fund treatment for medical and surgical issues.
The law was recently extended through December 31 of 2007. The MHPA originally became law in 1996, but a so-called “sunset clause” was written into it, forcing its expiration on September 31 of 2001. But it has been extended five times by amendments since its creation. In excess of 150 million employees in the U.S. are covered by group health insurance packages, so the impact is wide-ranging.
The MHPA was a turning point. Until then, a health plan could put high limits on medical and surgical treatment, but much lower levels for coverage of mental health treatment issues. While medical coverage limits might be at $100,000, mental health limits might be $10,000 or lower, sometimes as low as $5,000. Thanks to MHPA, that is illegal.
What is covered by mental health treatments? Typically, periods in drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers are included. Also covered are visits to a licensed therapist, a psychologist, or a psychiatrist, as well as stays in hospitals – mental health facilities or the mental health sections of medical hospitals for illnesses such as depression, schizophrenia, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) enforces the laws regulating group health plans. It has gone through a metamorphosis since its creation in 1974. At that time its mission was to enforce the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) of 1974. Since then it has undergone several name changes, until its present title reflected its broader mandate and its upgrade to sub-cabinet level.