Ensuring the Promise of Mental Health Parity in California

JoAnn Volk, Georgetown University Center on Health Insurance Reforms


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The 2008 federal Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA) requires health plans to cover mental health and substance use disorder services at parity with other medical services, thereby reducing financial and other barriers to obtaining needed services. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) builds on the act by requiring all plans sold to individuals and small employers to include coverage of mental health and substance use disorder services.

Five years have passed since final MHPAEA federal rules and the ACA coverage expansions went into effect. While almost five million Californians gained coverage since enactment of the ACA — including coverage for mental health and substance use disorder services — this has not translated to access to treatment, despite the promise of parity.

With CHCF support, researchers at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms assessed California’s progress in enforcing the MHPAEA. Their detailed analysis is due in fall 2020, but an overview slide deck is available now under Document Downloads.