A new extension to The Mental Health Parity Act, or MHPA, was recently approved and signed by the president. The new expiration date will be December 31, 2007. The law was initially endorsed in 1996 and included a clause that determined that the act must end on September 31, 2001. However, the expiration date was extended a total of five times.
Many North Carolina employee benefit plans are affected by the extension of the MHPA. The MHPA requires that any health insurance plan must provide the same benefits for treatments related to mental health, as for other medical treatments. Prior to the approval of this act, it was normal for the insurance plans to offer low coverage for mental health, and much higher limits for other medical treatments. It was a common practice to cover mental health treatments only up to $5,000 to $10,000, while the coverage for other treatments could be $100,000 or more.
Appointments to a psychiatrist or therapist are examples of mental health treatments covered by many insurance plans. Often, they also include admission to health centers, or hospitals. Some mental conditions like schizophrenia may require extended treatment in specialized clinics. Rehabilitation of patients with drug or alcohol problems may also be covered.
In 1974, the federal agency that enforces the law regarding pensions and healthcare was created. The agency’s original name was the Pension and Welfare Benefits Program, and it had the responsibility to enforce the Employee Retirement Income Security Act approved in 1974. In 1986, the agency’s name was changed from Program to Administration, and the new name was the Pension and Welfare Benefits Administration. Today, the actual name is the Employee Benefits Security Administration, or EBSA. This has been the case since 2003. At that time, the agency was upgraded in level and is supervised by an Assistant Secretary of Labor.