Nov. 11Final rules implementing a 2008 law that required insurers to treat mental healthcare in an equivalent way to other types of healthcare were issued Friday.

The U.S. Departments of the Treasury, Labor, and Health and Human Services (HHS) issued final rules Friday implementing the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, which was enacted in October 2008.

The law required parity in aggregate lifetime and annual dollar limits between mental health benefits and medical/surgical benefits. The rules apply the requirements to health plans and health insurance issuers for plans that begin July 1, 2014.

Until the July start date, plans and issuers subject to law must continue to comply with the interim final rules implementing some components of the parity law and issued in October 2009, according to an HHS fact sheet.

Among the details of the final rules are allowances for insurance plans and issuers to use multiple provider network tiers—provided they are consistent with the parity requirements.

Other provisions allow exceptions to the requirements’ applicability to most employment-based group health coverage.

The new rules drew praise from hospital advocates.

‘While we are still reviewing the rule, it is an important step toward removing barriers to care that affect many patients suffering from psychiatric and substance abuse conditions,” Rick Pollack, executive vice president of the American Hospital Association, said in a written statement. “By no longer thinking of behavioral and physical health benefits as distinct, we can make progress toward overcoming the stigma often associated with psychiatric and substance abuse conditions.  Patients who suffer from these conditions are among the most vulnerable Americans, and hospitals strongly support ensuring their access to both physical and behavioral health services.”

Publication Date: Monday, November 11, 2013