Many Americans will get broader coverage for mental illness and substance abuse treatment under rules issued Friday by the Obama administration.
Health plans offered by employers with more than 50 workers will be required to treat mental health benefits the same way they handle coverage for physical ailments. That means no separate annual deductibles for mental health treatment. And copayments for visiting a psychiatrist or social worker can't be more than the charge for going to the family doctor or a medical specialist.
"Health plans will be under an obligation to provide the same level of coverage for treatment of mental illness as they do for cancer, diabetes and heart disease," said Andrew Sperling of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
The rules, which take effect July 1, provide a blueprint for employers to carry out a law passed by Congress in 2008 with broad bipartisan support.
The legislation aims to remove financial barriers to treatment for people with mental health problems. About 140 million Americans in more than 450,000 employer plans will benefit from improved coverage.
The law also prohibits health plans from setting limits on number of visits or hospital days for mental health problems that are different from any such limitations on treatment for medical problems. Sperling said the rules issued Friday clarify that other kinds of treatment limits in health plans, such as case reviews and lists of preferred drugs, may not be used to discriminate against people with mental illness.
The Congressional Budget Office concluded the law would raise costs only slightly, less than half of 1 percent, for employers.
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