In a study examining the impact of a parity policy for mental health insurance benefits, researchers have concluded that parity had a different impact on spending and service utilization for enrollees with illnesses that are more severe and chronic. As a result of the parity policy, individuals seeking treatment for major depression or bipolar disorder had lower out-of-pocket spending, despite no significant difference in the amount of behavioral health services they used. However, individuals with adjustment disorder (a less severe, acute illness) had lower spending, in part because they also received fewer psychotherapy services after the parity policy was implemented.
The study, which is the lead article in the February issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry, compared behavioral health treatment use and spending before and after the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) program implemented parity (2000 and 2002, respectively) for two groups—19,094 FEHB enrollees diagnosed in 1999 with bipolar disorder, major depression, or adjustment disorder and 10,521 privately insured enrollees unaffected by the policy. The study was led by Alisa B. Busch, MD, MS, director of Integration of Clinical Measurement & Health Services Research at McLean Hospital and assistant professor of Psychiatry and Health Care Policy Harvard Medical School.
“The primary goal of insurance is to provide financial protection for individuals,” explained Busch. “However, benefit limits work against that because they mean that persons with more severe or chronic conditions who use the most services encounter those limits more often and are therefore at a greater risk of financial loss due to health care utilization.”
Science Brief thanks to EurekAlert.
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Mental health parity reduces out of pocket expenses for patients
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