A federal law aimed at requiring equal insurance benefits for both physical and mental health care has increased the use of services by children with autism spectrum disorder without increasing the out-of-pocket costs to their families, new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health-led research suggests.
The increases in health care utilization are admittedly modest. For example, study findings indicate that the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 was associated with an increase in spending on health care services for a child with autism spectrum disorder of only $73 in the first year following its implementation. But the results are still encouraging, researchers say, since the intent of the law was to remove restrictions on mental health treatment, which insurers have historically covered less generously than other types of medical care.
The findings appear in the February issue of Health Affairs.
“We found that kids with autism spectrum disorder are getting more services but their families don’t have to pay more to get them, which is the basic point of having health insurance and why the parity law was passed by Congress,” says the study’s lead author Dr. Elizabeth A. Stuart, a professor in the departments of Mental Health, Biostatistics and Health Policy and Management at the Bloomberg School. “In the past, these families likely would have had to pay more out of their own pockets to get more care and they are already paying an average of $1,250 to $1,500 a year out-of-pocket to cover treatments and therapies for their children.”