Mental health parity advocates had reason to celebrate in early February when President Barack Obama signed the latest State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) provisions into law.
NASW Senior Government Relations Associate James Finley said the newest SCHIP legislation includes a mandate that mental health treatment be on par with medical health services. More specifically, the new law prohibits SCHIP plans from setting lower treatment limitations or higher financial requirements on coverage of mental health or substance use services than they set for other health services.
NASW has been a strong supporter of mental health parity legislation for years, Finley said. The new law is the third major victory in recent months concerning mental health parity. In July 2008, Congress enacted mental health parity for outpatient Medicare benefits. In October 2008, lawmakers approved the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Treatment Act, which was attached to the Wall Street rescue, tax and disaster relief bill. The provision mandated private insurers to provide mental health treatment and addiction services parity for around 113 million Americans who work for employers with 50 employees or more.
In order to help clarify the program, lawmakers in February renamed SCHIP to simply Children's Health Insurance Program or CHIP, Finley pointed out. Regardless of the name, it will aid millions of children and their families in getting equally critical care in mental health care. "We're pleased that mental health treatment is becoming embedded not only in the private sector, but also in federal programs," Finley said.
According to Mental Health America, the parity requirement is critical because, although low-income children have much higher rates of mental health conditions, only about 40 percent of states offer full coverage of necessary services for children with complex mental health needs.
NASW is a partner organization with Families USA, which helped lead the effort in supporting CHIP programs that are essential to helping millions of children and their families with health and mental health care.