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New Study on Employer Compliance with Mental Health Parity Laws

March 30, 2015

The Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC) has published a new report on mental health in the workplace, based on surveys of human resources and disability professionals of diverse employers from across the nation. Of the 314 employers who responded to the survey, 87 percent have more than 1,000 employees. DMEC found, for the first time since 2006, that stigma associated with mental health is increasing among employers. The report found that, despite greater reliance on employee assistance programs and personalized aspects of return-to-work processes, around 25 percent of respondents believe that stigma against those receiving mental health treatment or living with behavioral health issues is increasing.

The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 does not require employers to offer behavioral health benefits, but does require large employers that offer both behavioral health and medical benefits to provide parity between them. The law is somewhat inconsistent in how it defines large employers. As a baseline, the Act allows all states to define large employers as 51 or more employees, but some states already use the Public Health Service Act’s dividing line of 101 or more employees. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) extended the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act’s reach by requiring that most employer-sponsored health plans include mental health benefits. Unfortunately, DMEC found that only 12 percent of the employers offer behavioral health benefits. This includes mental health and substance abuse benefits, in a separate, carve-out plan as opposed to an integrated plan. This finding represents a five percent decrease in such separate plans since 2012, and eight percent decrease from 2010. DMEC found that most employers integrated behavioral health benefits into their overall health plans, but noted that mental health parity efforts may only be one possible cause of increased integration.