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October 4, 2008    DOL > EBSA > Newsroom > Fact Sheet

Mental Health Parity Act

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U.S. Department of Labor
Employee Benefits Security Administration
February 2007

The Mental Health Parity Act (MHPA), signed into law on September 26, 1996, requires that annual or lifetime dollar limits on mental health benefits be no lower than any such dollar limits for medical and surgical benefits offered by a group health plan or health insurance issuer offering coverage in connection with a group health plan.

MHPA applies to group health plans for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 1998.  The original sunset provision (providing that the parity requirements would not apply to benefits for services furnished on or after September 30, 2001) has been extended six times.  The current extension runs through December 31, 2007.

The law:

  • Generally requires parity of mental health benefits with medical/surgical benefits with respect to the application of aggregate lifetime and annual dollar limits under a group health plan

  • Provides that employers retain discretion regarding the extent and scope of mental health benefits offered to workers and their families (including cost sharing, limits on numbers of visits or days of coverage, and requirements relating to medical necessity)

The law, however, does not apply to benefits for substance abuse or chemical dependency.

The law also contains the following two exemptions:

  • Small employer exemption. MHPA does not apply to any group health plan or coverage of any employer who employed an average of between 2 and 50 employees on business days during the preceding calendar year, and who employs at least 2 employees on the first day of the plan year

  • Increased cost exemption. MHPA does not apply to a group health plan or group health insurance coverage if the application of the parity provisions results in an increase in the cost under the plan or coverage of at least one percent

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