Behavioral health coverage in the individual market increased after ACA parity requirements
As of January 1, 2014, the Affordable Care Act designated mental health and substance use services as an essential health benefit in Marketplace plans and extended parity protections to the individual and small-group markets. We analyzed documents for seventy-eight individual and small-group plans in 2014 (after parity provisions took effect) and sixty comparison plans in 2013 (the year before parity provisions took effect) to understand the degree to which coverage for mental health and substance use care improved relative to medical/surgical benefits. The results suggest that plan issuers did what the provisions required them to do. Although in 2013 a lower proportion of plans covered mental health or substance use care, compared to medical/surgical care, in 2014 the proportions were the same. If essential health benefit requirements were to be removed and mental health and substance use coverage becomes similar to that in 2013, as many as 20 percent of the plans in our sample would not cover these conditions. To determine whether increases in behavioral health coverage will result in improved access to behavioral health services requires complementary data on the size of provider networks and use of services.