By Dr. Mark Friedlander, Chief Medical Officer, Aetna Behavioral Health
Comprehensive health care, inclusive of both physical and behavioral health services, should be equally available to everyone. Sounds straightforward, right? Unfortunately, it was not too long ago that plans could have higher deductibles or a variety of restrictions, simply because they included mental health services.
At Aetna, we believed that federal legislation could ensure that mental health concerns were treated like any physical illness, so we advocated for a national solution to remove barriers to mental health care and ensure that members had timely, appropriate access to services that would improve their overall health.
Our efforts paid off, as 10 years ago today – October 3, 2008 – President George W. Bush signed the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA) into law. Commonly referred to as Mental Health Parity, this law requires coverage for mental health and substance use disorders to be comparable to coverage for physical conditions. We have seen substantial progress over the last 10 years, but additional work is needed to ensure we meet the letter and spirit of the law.
With Mental Health Parity in place, we have been able to eliminate the limits on mental health and substance use disorder treatments and reduce both prior authorization requirements and out-of-pocket expenses for individuals. In addition, we have increased the number of behavioral health providers in our networks and expanded the services available to children.
Despite this progress, we are in many ways only beginning to see the promise of this law. Through our ongoing collaboration with regulators and other stakeholders, we are continuing to play a leading role in clarifying the MHPAEA regulations. We are also actively working with the ClearHealth Quality Institute and others in the industry to develop strong accreditation certification standards to ensure health insurers meet the law’s requirements. With rigorous standards in place, these and other regulations can help further expand the availability of behavioral health services, incentivize coordinated care and improve the quality of care.
As we have done over the last 10 years, we must do more than just implementing this law and meeting the compliance requirements. We must continue to remove barriers to behavioral health care, reduce any stigma associated with mental health care, and offer services that are equal to coverage for physical conditions. MHPAEA put us on the right path, but much more work is needed. We look forward to continuing to work with our colleagues throughout Aetna and organizations such as The Association for Behavioral Health and Wellness to further strengthen this law and resources we provide to members.