Two studies conducted with SAMHSA support have been especially instructive, said Jeffrey A. Buck, Ph.D., Chief of the Survey, Analysis, and Financing Branch in the Division of State and Community Systems Development at SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS). (See Recommended Reading on Parity.)
“One common finding is that parity is pretty inexpensive,” said Dr. Buck. Although the research shows that parity seems to increase the number of people using services, he explained, the resulting cost increase for health plans was a fraction of 1 percent. “We would expect to see the same kind of effects as a result of the Federal law,” he said, noting that the Congressional Budget Office reached the same conclusion.
Insurance companies seem to accept the new law, said William J. Hudock, a special expert on financing policy in the Office of the Director at CMHS. While the insurance industry doesn’t necessarily appreciate having the Government mandate certain benefits, he said, “most of them acknowledge that providing parity is not a large-ticket item and is one that has probably been long overdue.”
“With approval of this bill, we will tear down the walls of stigma and discrimination and open the doors to the power and promise of treatment and recovery. It recognizes that mental health disorders are every bit as debilitating, and just as treatable, as cancer and diabetes.”
— David Shern, Ph.D.
President and Chief Executive Officer, Mental Health America
Passage of the law doesn’t mean the work is done.
“Our work is not over,” emphasized Dr. Broderick. “Now we need to move expeditiously forward in doing our part at SAMHSA to help achieve the goals of this new law.”
The next step is to interpret the law and develop regulations laying out how it will actually be put into action.
Over the coming year, the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Treasury will craft those regulations and guidance.
Farther down the line, the 2008 law requires the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to assess the law’s impact and provide a report to Congress by 2012 and every 2 years after that.
The GAO study will analyze coverage rates, patterns, and trends; any exclusion of specific mental health or substance abuse diagnoses; and the law’s impact on coverage and costs.
But the law’s impact goes beyond the purely financial, emphasized Ms. Wattenberg.
“Congress has sent a message about mental health and addiction by moving them out from the shadows and into the realm of mainstream health care,” she said. “It’s a recognition that these are diseases that can be helped through treatment. That’s a big deal.”