Prior to 1996, most group insurance plans used to offer lower coverage for mental health treatments than for other medical treatments such as surgery. The differences were dramatic. An insurance plan that paid up to $100,000 for surgery might only pay $5,000 or $10,000 for mental health treatment. But in 1996, The Mental Health Parity Act, or MHPA, was approved. This law changed the rules of mental health coverage.
The MHPA was intended to end in September 31, 2001, because it included an expiration date. But, it was postponed several times. Recently the president signed yet another extension, and the law is still in force until December 31, 2007.
This extension has an important impact on workers covered by Washington employee benefit plans. The MHPA states that any insurance plan, which covers mental health treatments, must offer the same benefits as it does for other medical treatments.
Admission to mental health centers or areas in hospitals specializing in mental health are examples of treatments that are often covered. Other treatments involve sessions with psychologists or psychiatrists. Covered treatments also often include periods of drug or alcohol rehabilitation, and inpatient or outpatient treatments for ailments like schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress and depression.
Today the agency that regulates the enforcement of MHPA is the Employee Benefits Security Administration, or EBSA. It was created in 1974, under the name of the Pension and Welfare Benefits Program. The agency had the mission to enforce the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, also known as ERISA. Twelve years later, in January 1986, they agency’s name changed to the Pension and Welfare Benefits Administration. The last change was in 2003, when the agency changed its name yet again, to the current one. Group health insurance plans for employees today cover more than 150 million American workers, and EBSA oversees the enforcement of the law regarding particular healthcare and pensions.