Final Obamacare ruling requires insurers to treat mental health as physical illness

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A final rule issued by the Obama administration on Friday requires insurers to treat mental health and substance abuse problems the same way they do physical illnesses, finalizing the general rules surrounding the Affordable Care Act (ACA), often called "Obamacare."

"For way too long, the health-care system has openly discriminated against Americans with behavioral health problems," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Friday. "In the past, it was legal for insurance companies to treat these disorders differently than medical and surgical needs."

A new mandate for mental health patients

The ruling comes as implementation of the ACA and related laws, including the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, passed two years before the ACA, is finalized. The official date for Obamacare's full implementation is Jan. 1, 2014, with some aspects of the law rolling in thereafter.

This final ruling and its requirement that health insurers treat mental health and substance abuse problems the same as physical illnesses will take effect Jan. 1, 2014, along with other mandates, such as requirements to ignore pre-existing health conditions in insurance quotes and charges.

There are a few loopholes in the requirement, however, that apply mainly to Medicaid patients whose coverage is administered through private health plans. Still, the requirement is a big step forward for mental health.

 
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