Congress Takes Action on Mental-Health Parity Bill

A new law may soon guarantee better insurance coverage of mental health—if House and Senate can agree.

Video: Health Insurance Basics

Video: Health Insurance Basics


Families dealing with a loved one's mental health problem (that means just about every American family, since 1 in 4 people has a diagnosable mental disorder) got one step closer to getting help with the high cost of treatment, thanks to congressional action on a long-stalled mental health parity law.

It has been a long time coming. The bill, in the works for 10 years, is designed to eliminate loopholes in federal law that let insurers provide less coverage for mental illness than for physical illness. That has caused much misery for families as they struggle to pay out of pocket for treatments for depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and other often chronic mental problems.

The deal isn't yet done because House and Senate are quibbling over a corporate tax break that is proposed to help offset anticipated costs of the parity bill. But if the bill wins final approval this week, here are four changes to look for soon:

  • The proposal calls for ending higher copays, deductibles, and out-of-pocket costs for mental health treatment, compared with remedies for physical ailments.
  • Limits on the number of visits covered per year can be "no more restrictive" for mental-health care than they are for surgery or other medical treatments. (Now, insurers often strictly limit the number of annual visits for psychotherapy or substance abuse treatment.)
  • Improved mental-health coverage for people working for employers who self-insure. Under current law, those employers don't have to provide mental-health coverage.
  • Substance abuse treatment, if offered, has to be covered on a par with medical care.