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Health Care Reform:

Health Insurance & Affordable Care Act

Health Care Reform: What's Covered

Answers to WebMD readers' questions about what health care reform covers.

Q: Is mental health covered? And if so, is there a limit on how many therapy sessions a patient in need can have in a year?

A: Yes, mental health services will be covered.

Health plans sold in health insurance exchanges starting in 2014 will be required to offer consumers an “essential benefit package.” This package must include mental health and substance abuse benefits.

Though no specific number of therapy sessions will be established, the law does require that plans comply with Mental Health Parity law, which states that mental health and medical benefits must be treated equally. That means that out-of-pocket costs and benefit limits must be the same for mental health care as for medical care. Also remember that as of last year, the Affordable Care Act did away with lifetime limits to coverage and restricted annual limits, two provisions that apply to both medical and mental health care.

Still, there are details that have yet to be worked out. For example, the way in which covered benefits and medical necessity are ultimately determined by insurers is not clear and is under consideration by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), which will make recommendations to the government.

If you get your insurance through your employer, parity laws are already in effect if your employer has 50 or more workers and offers mental health benefits.

For more information on mental health coverage, see my WebMD Health Insurance Navigator blog on this topic.

Q: Will dental, vision, alternative care, physical therapy, and in-vitro fertilization (IVF) be covered?

A: The law establishes general categories of services that must be included in a health plan’s essential benefit package, yet the scope of those services is a work in progress.

According to Kelly Traw, a principal in the Washington, D.C. benefits consulting firm Mercer, the law directs the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to further define which services would ultimately be included under each service category. The law also states that the scope of benefits must reflect those provided by a typical employer-sponsored health plan. “The Department of Labor is conducting a survey to inform that determination,” Traw says. “There aren’t black-and-white rules right now.”

Here’s what we do currently know:

  • Dental care -- All qualified health plans sold on the health insurance exchanges must include dental care coverage for children and adolescents younger than 21, though the scope of those benefits have yet to be determined.  There are no requirements for dental coverage for adults.
  • Alternative medicines -- The law prohibits discrimination against any groups of providers, including chiropractors, but it’s unclear exactly which benefits for alternative care will be included.
  • Vision care -Vision care for children will be included in the essential benefits packages.
  • Physical therapy -- The law states that rehabilitative services and devices must be included. It's reasonable to assume that physical therapy might fall into this category. How and what the scope of those services will be, however, is still being worked out.
  • In vitro fertilization (IVF) -- The law does not indicate that IVF will be a covered service.

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