Tim Clement, Policy Director, ParityTrack
For most of the history of modern American health care, mental health treatment was not covered by insurance the same way other medical treatment was covered. Insurance plans often implemented arbitrary and restrictive annual and lifetime limits on inpatient days and outpatient visits. Copayments and coinsurance rates were often far higher than they were for other medical care. Separate and more expensive deductibles for mental health care were the norm.
Thankfully, the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (the Federal Parity Law) made this form of separate and unequal insurance coverage illegal. The Federal Parity Law prohibits insurance plans from imposing treatment limitations and financial requirements that are more restrictive for mental health and substance use disorder treatment than those used for the treatment of other medical conditions.
The good news is that health insurance coverage that discriminates against people with behavioral health conditions is now against the law. The bad news is that nearly a decade after President George W. Bush signed this landmark piece of legislation into law, insurance coverage for treatment of mental illness and addiction still is not on par with insurance coverage of other medical conditions.