Regulations on Parity for Federal Mental Health Benefits May Be Delayed

By Staff Report

Oct. 12, 2009

Employers must comply with a new law on parity for mental health care benefits next year, but may have to do so initially without the aid of federal regulations.

The Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 requires employers to provide the same coverage for mental health and substance abuse disorders as they do for other medical conditions in their group health care plans.

The law, which goes into effect for most group plans on January 1, 2010, succeeds an earlier statute that banned discriminatory annual and lifetime dollar limits but allowed health care plans to discriminate in other ways, such as imposing annual limits on the number of covered visits to mental health professionals, while having no limits for other medical conditions.

However, federal officials say regulations won’t be ready until January at the earliest.

“We are committed to ensuring access to these critical services, and it is our goal to issue regulations by January 2010 that will address the key issues,” Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wrote in an October 2 letter to Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota.

Sebelius said federal agencies have received more than 400 written comments in response to an April notice requesting input from the public on key issues associated with the law.

Among other things, federal regulators sought comment on which provisions in the law require regulatory clarification, how out-of-network coverage for mental disorders differs from out-of-network coverage for other medical disorders, and whether special consideration should be given to small employers.

Filed by Jerry Geisel of Business Insurance, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, e-mail

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