The Obama Administration's rules governing how insurance companies cover mental health treatment could help more people with mental illness seek treatment.
Under the new rules, health insurance plans must offer the same amount of coverage for mental health and substance abuse claims as they do for other physical diseases.
State mental health advocates and providers discussed the rules over the weekend during the annual conference of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Minnesota.
People who have mental illness tend to avoid treatment, sometimes for as a long as a decade, said Donna Zimmerman, senior vice president for government and community relations for HealthPartners. She said the new rules could ease their concerns.
"Mental health parity will help decrease stigma because people will be able to get treatment, they'll have coverage, so there won't be any barriers in terms of access to treatment," Zimmerman said. "We think that'll make it a lot easier for people to get in and once they're in, they're treated just like anyone else who's coming in for care."
That's a message also echoed by non-profit providers, including the St. Paul-based People Incorporated Mental Health Services. Communications Director Bill Gray said the new rules will help end discrimination faced by some mental health patients who often paid higher out-of-pocket costs for treatment.
"You even see people self-selecting away just because of the high insurance deductibles they might have with their plans," Gray said. "So the way that parity will affect that is you'll have the same deductible for whatever service that you need and we're hoping that it will just make it easier for people that need the help to get the help earlier."
Approximately one out of every four adults, and one of out five children, experience mental health illness each year.
Minnesota already had mental health parity laws that covered large group plans. But the new rules require individual and small group plans to treat mental health and substance abuse the same way as other physical diseases.
Sue Abderholden, executive director of the state's National Alliance on Mental Illness, is pleased with the final parity rules, but she's concerned counties will stop funding mental health programs as a result.
"So now, they're saying 'Well, we don't have to pay for that anymore cause people have insurance that covers mental health treatment so we can use those dollars for something else.'" Abderholden said. "We want to make sure those dollars are actually put back into the mental health system."
Still, Abderholden said implementation of the new parity rules will be a big step for mental health treatment in Minnesota.