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Report: Vigilance Needed to Ensure Parity Enforcement, Effectiveness

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States need to keep careful watch to ensure that their addiction and mental health parity laws are delivering on their promise, according to a new policy review.

The Los Angeles Times reported Dec. 1 that researchers from  Mathematica Policy Research and the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration examined California's parity law, passed in 2000.

The experience from the first five years the law was in effect shows that parity costs were at or below projections, and that most health plans ended the practice of capping the length of inpatient treatment stays and limiting the number of annual stints in outpatient care.

However, some plans continued to use “medical necessity” policy clauses to try to limit coverage. Researchers also found that patients sometimes had trouble finding an approved provider, and both insurers and physicians complained that the list of diagnoses covered by parity was inflexible and incomplete.

Many state residents were also unaware of the law, and the study authors said that public education about the new federal parity law could have the fringe benefit of reducing stigma.

The review was published in the December 2009 issue of the journal Psychiatric Services.

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