by KEN BLACK
Targeted News Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 7 -- A law that went into effect in 2008 concerning the availability of mental health and substance abuse services in employer health plans has largely been a success, the Government Accountability Office revealed.
In a report titled, "Mental Health and Substance Use: Employers' Insurance Coverage Maintained or Enhanced Since Parity Act, but Effect of Coverage on Enrollees Varied" (Report No. GAO-12-63) the GAO said the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity Act of 2008 has expanded access for those who take advantage of it. The act made employers offering mental health and substance abuse services offer those services at the same level as other health-related services.
Only 2 percent of employers said they discontinued coverage because of the new mental health provisions. Another 2 percent may have dropped a certain portion of the coverage, such as substance abuse services. However, the vast majority of employers simply made the changes in their plans as the law required.
Generally, the cost-sharing and other portions of the plans have remained the same since the change. The report did not indicate if premiums had changed, however, because of the plan.
The GAO also suggested that the evidence was unclear whether more employees were taking advantage of the coverage, compared to more limited coverage in the past. Some studies have suggested a slight increase, but others reported little to no increase in access.
The report was sent both to the Department of Labor and Health and Human Services, who did not offer any official comments.
A full copy of the report is available at: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d1263.pdf
Ken Black is a Targeted News Service writer based in Orlando, Fla.
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