Ensuring robust access to mental health care has been a bipartisan priority for years, since the 2008 Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA) called for equal coverage of mental and physical health benefits. However, many Americans still struggle to access affordable mental health treatment. Recent data shows that under half of adults with mental illness receive care, and even fewer with substance use disorders get treatment.
To address these gaps, the Biden Administration announced new actions to improve enforcement of mental health parity rules. The goal is to ensure the 150 million Americans with private insurance can fully access covered mental health benefits.
Increase access for mental health insurance
A new proposed regulation aims to reinforce MHPAEA’s goal of equal access to mental and physical health services. It would require health plans to make changes when they provide inadequate access to mental health care. Plans would need to demonstrate they have sufficient in-network psychiatrists, psychologists, and other providers to meet demand. While the concept seems valuable, there are some who question whether this change will provide the needed accountability to see real change.
The rules also aim to close loopholes allowing plans to impose greater restrictions on mental health benefits. This includes visit limits, prior authorization barriers, and higher out-of-pocket costs. Stricter oversight will prohibit these obstacles so patients can access care when needed.
Multiple steps to improve access
Along with strengthening parity rules, the Biden Administration is taking a multi-faceted approach to the mental health crisis. Recent actions include:
- Increasing mental health coverage and reimbursement rates in Medicare.
- Investing and additional $200 million into the 988 suicide and crisis lifeline.
- Making it easier for schools to bill Medicaid for mental health services.
- Proposing rules to allow more mental health providers to participate in Medicare.
Through a combination of enforcement, legislation, and funding, the Biden Administration has announced plans to help eliminate some of the barriers to receiving equal health insurance benefits for mental health treatment. Challenges still remain, and answering questions about how to hold providers accountable remains an important question. But increasing reimbursement rates in Medicare, along with allowing more mental health providers to participate in Medicare is an important step forward.