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Mental Health Insurance Pays

Program Cut Patients' Out-of-Pocket Expenses Without Spiking Use, Costs
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

March 29, 2006 -- Mental health insurance that lowers patients' out-of-pocket expenses may be within reach, researchers report.

The finding comes from a study of more than 700,000 federal employees. Starting in 2001, a new policy required federal employees' health insurance programs to treat mental health and substance abuse like any other illness, in terms of benefits.

Not all health insurance plans do that, partly due to concerns that use and costs would rise in such plans, write the researchers, who included Howard Goldman, MD, PhD, a psychiatry professor at the University of Maryland's medical school in Baltimore.

Goldman's team found that the new policy cut federal employees' out-of-pocket expenses for mental health and substance abuse services without creating unusual rises in those services' use or total costs.

The study appears in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Insurance Study

Goldman and colleagues studied seven federal health insurance programs. For comparison, they also tracked seven health insurance plans that weren't part of the federal plan and didn't provide the same benefits for mental health and substance abuse.

The new federal policy was set in 1999 and went into effect in 2001. By studying those plans in 1999-2000 and in 2001-2002, the researchers got before-and-after snapshots of use, total costs, and out-of-pocket expenses for each plan.

The results show that after the federal policy went into effect, federal employees paid less out of their own pockets for mental health and substance abuse services. Use and total costs rose for all of the plans that were studied, but the rises weren't greater for the federal employees' plans.

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