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politicians stand at podium surrounded by people holding placards with Mental Health Parity NOW on them
By Caren Howard, MHA Advocacy Manager, and Nathaniel Counts, MHA Senior Policy Director

person stands at podium and speaks while gesturing with handOn this day ten years ago, President Bush signed into law the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, also known as MHPAEA. With leadership from Senators Pete Domenici and Paul Wellstone in the Senate and Representatives Patrick Kennedy and Jim Ramstad in the House, and coordinated advocacy from MHA and other mental health advocates, MHPAEA sought to eliminate discrimination against mental health and substance use benefits in health insurance. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) further expanded MHPAEA to cover almost all health insurance, so almost every person with health insurance coverage enjoys the benefits of parity.

MHPAEA prohibits health insurers from limiting mental health and substance use benefits more than they limit coverage for other health care benefits. With MHPAEA, health insurers can’t have annual therapy limits or charge larger co-pays unless they do the same for other health care benefits. As a result, today many of these treatments limitations are gone for most Americans, and health insurance companies are investing more in mental health and substance use treatment for their members. MHPAEA has made an incredible contribution to mental health of millions of Americans and addressed a critical area of discrimination in our society.

Ten years later, there is also still much to be done to fully realize parity. Individuals still go years without care and often do not have access to the full range of effective treatment options. MHA continues to push parity forward and opposes changes to existing health insurance coverage protections to ensure that parity offers meaningful benefits for people who need treatment.

You and other advocates can help by:

  • Urging your Senators and Representatives to support the Behavioral Health Coverage Transparency Act of 2018, which MHA has been advocating for and would further built on oversight and enforcement of MHPAEA.
  • Urging your state legislators to pass the Kennedy Forum’s Model State Parity Legislation, which MHA helped develop and has been advocating for with its affiliates in the states.

Full realization of parity requires more work by informed policymakers, administrators, and consumers to challenge the existing discrimination, and MHA, along with the Kennedy Forum and other partners, continue to work across the states to change old practices.

Thanks to MHPAEA, in a short time we have come a long way toward mental health parity, and ten years from now we look forward to celebrating further successes with mental health and substance use advocates across the nation.