Equal Health Coverage for Brain and Body: There Oughtta Be a Law (And There Is!)
Updated: May 29
I’m a marketer by trade and a mental health patient by life lottery. I write about mental health marketing, not healthcare policy or health insurance regulations. So I was surprised and intrigued to learn that this month marks the 10th anniversary of a great law I’d never even heard of — the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, also known as the Federal Parity Law. It was passed in 2008 to require health insurers to cover diseases of the brain no more restrictively than disease of the body. Yay!
But it was good news wrapped in bad: As I was learning the law exists, I was reading about a recently released study that found a serious nation-wide inadequacy in enforcing the law. Only one state in the nation scored above a 79 in compliance (Illinois); most were dismally behind. My home state of Georgia scored a D(!), so I guess it’s no wonder I never heard of the law.
The disparity in attitudes and access to treatment for mental health versus physical health is an often-visited topic among people with personal or professional ties to the mental health community (and that’s almost everyone). I guess it seemed doubly insulting to me to discover that there had been great work done by lawmakers over the years to ensure equity in coverage for mental health problems — and that still isn’t enough. The laws are being circumvented or downright ignored all over the country.
As the stigma of mental illness begins to lose its grip, more people are finding themselves able to ask for help — only to be denied coverage (or given less-than-adequate coverage) by their insurance companies. Patients need to be educated about the laws and learn that they and their families can fight unjust insurance coverage. But that’s a lot to expect from a family in crisis — and insurers no doubt depend on that.
At a time when addiction and suicide rates are skyrocketing, and more and better treatments are available, all of us in the mental health community need to realize that ultimately, the buck may stop here. It’s time for providers to speak up and stand together against discrimination by insurance providers. We need to pressure elected officials, insurance commissioners and all other decision makers in the state to bring coverage in line with the vision of the Federal Parity Law. Illinois has gone above and beyond the requirements, earning a score of 100 — maybe we could start by looking at what that state has done.
Ten years is too long for a great law that could change lives to be ignored. Georgia, surely we’re better than a D?