One-quarter of the health plans being sold on health insurance exchanges set up through the Affordable Care Act offer benefits that appear to violate a federal law requiring equal benefits for general medical and mental health care, according to new research led by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
The law – known as mental health parity – was designed to eliminate discrimination in insurance coverage offered for people with mental illness and addiction problems. The federal law first required parity for group health insurance policies in 2010 and was extended to insurance products offered on state exchanges with the implementation of Obamacare last year.
The research team analyzed whether information available to consumers shopping on state health insurance exchanges appeared consistent with the federal parity law. The findings were published online March 2 in the journal Psychiatric Services.
“Our concern was that health plans may have an incentive to avoid enrolling individuals who use mental health services because their care tends to be more costly on average,” says study leader Dr. Colleen L. Barry, associate professor in the departments of health policy and management and mental health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “This would go against the philosophy of parity, which was to level the playing field. Our study suggests that some plans may still be offering people with mental illness insurance benefits that are less generous than benefits for other medical conditions.”