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Parity Does Reduce Families' Mental Health Expenditures

However, study finds spending reductions smaller than anticipated

MONDAY, Feb. 18 (HealthDay News) -- For families with children with mental health and substance use disorders (MH/SUDs), parity laws decrease the share and level of out-of-pocket (OOP) expenses, according to a study published online Feb. 18 in Pediatrics.

To examine whether parity reduces families' share of total MH/SUD OOP treatment expenditure, Colleen L. Barry, Ph.D., from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, and colleagues used claims data to compare changes two years before (1999 to 2000) and two years after (2001 to 2002) the parity implementation in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. Changes were compared with those in a contemporaneous group of health plans that did not implement parity over the same four-year period.

The researchers found that the implementation of parity led to a significant annual reduction in the share of total MH/SUD treatment expenditures paid OOP (−5 percent). There was also a significant decrease in the average OOP spending on MH/SUD treatment for those whose total MH/SUD expenditure met or exceeded the 90th percentile (−$178).

"The federal parity law is rightly viewed as an antidiscrimination measure, and in that regard it achieved its objective," the authors write. "Although parity offered some protection against the often high costs of caring for a child with an MH/SUD, it did not lower OOP spending as much as expected."

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