Today is the 10th anniversary of the Parity Act. And yet, mental health parity is once again under attack. This is a result of the federal government making rule changes to health insurance plans that allow open discrimination against people with mental health conditions.
These short-term limited duration insurance (STLD) plans, do not have to follow important guidelines that were set forth by the Affordable Care Act (ACA)—guidelines that enforce mental health parity and ensure coverage for mental health and substance use services for all people. These plans can deny both coverage and care for people with mental health conditions. This is discrimination, plain and simple.
What’s the Problem with These Plans?
Simply put, these health insurance plans are bad news for people with mental health conditions. They are likely to attract younger people who don’t need extensive health insurance coverage. However, the first symptoms of mental illness typically appear during youth and early adulthood. If a young person is enrolled in a STLD plan and experiences a mental health crisis, the plan might not provide the coverage needed for prescription medications or mental health treatment. In fact, 43% of STLD plans do not cover mental health services according to a recent analysis. This could leave the individual without access to treatment or with high out-of-pocket costs.
Additionally, these plans do not have to abide by the ACA’s ban of imposing lifetime and annual dollar limits. They can set a maximum amount that the plan is willing to spend on treatment for the individual. As most people in mental health treatment know, costs can be incredibly burdensome even with health insurance—let alone if insurance cuts off once you reach a set limit.
Further, as these plans typically attract healthier individuals, people with pre-existing conditions will see increased premiums in the ACA-compliant insurance marketplace. As a result, many people with mental illness may eventually find themselves unable to afford comprehensive coverage.
What Can We Do About This?
NAMI, in partnership with several other patient advocate groups and health care organizations, filed a lawsuit to invalidate the STLD plan rule. We have joined this suit because we oppose going back to a time when life-saving mental health treatment was limited or unavailable. NAMI has fought tirelessly for mental health parity, and we will not stand silently by as plans, once again, discriminate against people with mental health conditions.
You can also fight against this in your own communities. Call or write your state insurance commissioner and let him/her know that STLD plans will harm people who live with mental health conditions. Treatment of mental illness is just as important as treatment for physical illness, and STLD plans do not enforce these beliefs.
The health of our nation includes its mental health. It is imperative to retain parity and access to essential mental health benefits for all people in the U.S.—and NAMI will always fight for the availability of mental health treatment for those who need it.
Samantha Holland is project specialist of advocacy and public policy.
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