Acting on a law passed way back in 2008, the Departments of Health and Human Services, Treasury and Labor made a final ruling that forces many health insurers to treat mental illnesses like physical ones.

The Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 applies to private employer-funded plans that cover more than 100 people and small businesses that have more than 50 employees.

Plans purchased under the Affordable Care Act have similar parity protections for people suffering mental illnesses such as depression.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (by way of USA Today), 26 percent of adult Americans have a diagnosable mental health problem.

The new rule means that insurance companies can’t limit the number of therapy sessions for someone with depression, or put a cap on their medication. In the words of HHS, the act ensures that “health plan features like co-pays, deductibles and visit limits are generally not more restrictive for mental health/substance abuse disorders benefits than they are for medical/surgical benefits.”

In addition to those suffering from mental disorders, victims of addiction should have a new lifeline if they already have or are able to purchase insurance. The new rule requires insurance companies to pay for treatment for substance abuse as if it were a disease in the same way they might pay for treatment for cancer or other physical ailments.

Still more good news: Mental health and addiction problems will be covered by the same rules that require insurers to extend coverage to those with pre-existing conditions.

The administration views all this as part of its plan to reduce gun violence, and there may be merit to that. But really it’s a boon for the millions of Americans who find themselves scrambling to fund treatment for diseases that are recognized by all but the insurance companies. And it’s at least five years overdue.

— Posted by Peter Z. Scheer

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