Ending Discrimination and Opening the Doors to Treatment: Drug Policy Reform

Today, Director Kerlikowske joins the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, Treasury, and the Office of the Vice President in announcing the final rules providing equal coverage or parity for individuals needing treatment for mental health or substance use disorders and who are covered by group and individual health plans.

Substance use disorders are treatable—and recovery is possible—but too many Americans have not been able to get treatment because they didn’t have insurance coverage for treatment services. According to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 23 million Americans were in need of treatment for a substance use disorder, and only 2.5 million—about 1-in-10—actually received needed treatment.

Today’s rule, made possible by the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (Parity Act) makes it easier for those Americans to get the care they need by ending discriminatory practices that limited insurance coverage for behavioral health treatment and services. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) extends the reach of the Parity Act’s requirements. Starting in 2014, the ACA will require all small group and individual market plans created before March 23, 2010 to comply with federal parity requirements. Qualified Health Plans offered through the Health Insurance Marketplaces in every state must include coverage for mental health and substance use disorders as an Essential Health Benefit, and that coverage must comply with the federal parity requirements set forth in MHPAEA.

One of the most significant pieces of drug policy reform in a generation, this rule will expand mental health and substance use disorder services to 62 million Americans.  This builds on the historic momentum we’ve achieved toward treating our nation’s drug problem as a public health issue, not just a criminal justice issue. For decades, science has shown us that addiction is a chronic disease of the brain that can be successfully prevented and treated - not a moral failure on the part of the individual.

Today, we honor that research by ensuring that our healthcare system provides the same level of medical coverage for substance use disorders as it does for other chronic diseases, like cancer or diabetes. 

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