Study Shows Parity Law Has Not Increased Use of Mental Health Services

Recent research on federal parity regulations has shown that the interim regulations had “little immediate impact on improving access for patients in need of such services.” The researchers’ findings have motivated them to recommend stronger enforcement of parity laws.

An article in Behavioral Healthcare Magazine states that in the 12 months before and after the implementation of the federal parity law, researchers examined about 46,000 claims to study the patterns in which individuals with depression, bipolar and schizophrenia utilized services (through number of visits). The analysis followed the time period of preliminary parity regulations because the final rules weren’t released until 2013.

The data reported by an author of the study, Benjamin Miller, PsyD, University of Colorado School of Medicine, reflected that following the parity law, there was no increase in services utilized by the study population. In fact, they noted a substantial decrease in the number of visits to mental health providers and psychiatrists.

The researchers examined seven states (and Washington, D.C.) with weaker state parity laws, and wrongly hypothesized that in those states, new strengthened federal laws would lead to more patients accessing more services. The results of this study suggest that the federal law may not be reaching its intended effect. Miller, the author of the study, provided the following quote to Behavioral Healthcare:

“We would think that there would be some small uptick, but we know for a fact there are profound needs to address in mental health…Parity righted a wrong around the inequity of mental health benefits and medical benefits, but  parity has done nothing to create a comprehensive benefit that allows patients to receive seamless access to behavioral health services.”

The “rigorous but limited” study highlights the need for widespread changes in the long overlooked mental health delivery system. The parity analysis will be broadened this year to encompass utilization patterns from 2009 through 2013. Miller continues:

“Our payers and our providers are looking for what is ultimately going to be comprehensive change that provides a comprehensive benefit for patients, and we’re not seeing that yet. There are examples and pockets of brilliance, but that’s not seen at a benefit-design level..It’s also important to recognize that insurance design and benefits do not always impact downstream clinical transformation.”

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