Treasury, HHS Issue New Rules on Mental Health Parity

January 29, 2010 ( - The U.S. Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Treasury have jointly issued new rules providing parity for consumers enrolled in group health plans who need treatment for mental health or substance use disorders.

The new rules prohibit group health insurance plans — typically offered by employers — from restricting access to care by limiting benefits and requiring higher patient costs than those that apply to general medical or surgical benefits. The rules implement the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA).

A news release said the interim final rules were developed based on the departments’ review of more than 400 public comments on how the parity rule should be written. The deadline for issuing the rules was October 3, 2009, but the departments took more time due to the number of comments received (see Regulators Pass Deadline for Guidance on Mental Health Parity).

According to the announcement, MHPAEA greatly expands on an earlier law, the Mental Health Parity Act of 1996, which required parity only in aggregate lifetime and annual dollar limits between the categories of benefits and did not extend to substance use disorder benefits. The new law requires that any group health plan that includes mental health and substance use disorder benefits along with standard medical and surgical coverage must treat them equally in terms of out-of-pocket costs, benefit limits, and practices such as prior authorization and utilization review. These practices must be based on the same level of scientific evidence used by the insurer for medical and surgical benefits. 

MHPAEA applies to employers with 50 or more workers whose group health plans choose to offer mental health or substance use disorder benefits. The new rules are effective for plan years beginning on or after July 1, 2010.

Comments on the interim final rules are still being solicited.  Sections where further comments are being specifically sought include so-called “non quantitative” treatment limits such as those that pertain to the scope and duration of covered benefits, how covered drugs are determined (formularies), and the coverage of step-therapies.  Comments are also being specifically requested on the regulation’s section on “scope of benefits” or continuum of care.

Comments on the interim final regulation are due 90 days after the publication date, and may be made on the federal rulemaking portal at  Comments directed to HHS should include the file code CMS-4140-IFC.  Comments to the Department of Labor should be identified by RIN 1210-AB30.  Comments to the Treasury’s Internal Revenue Service should be identified by REG-120692-09. 

Comments may be sent to any of the three departments and will be shared with the other departments.

Text of the interim final rules is here. Instructions for commenting are here. They will be published in the Federal Register for February 2, 2010.