State Laws That Provide Parity for Mental Health Care Benefit Children and Ease Families' Financial Burden

Effect of state parity laws on children with mental health care needs

Researchers at Yale University examined the financial impact on children and their families of state laws mandating that insurers provide parity in coverage for mental and physical illness.

The researchers studied families with children who required mental health care. They compared out-of-pocket spending and other measures of financial burden among families living in states that have laws mandating parity in mental health coverage with those of families living in states without such mandates.

This project was part of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) national program Changes in Health Care Financing and Organization (HCFO). HCFO supports policy analysis, research, evaluation and demonstration projects designed to provide public and private decision leaders with usable and timely information on health care policy and financing issues.

Key Findings

  • The researchers estimated that in states with parity laws, 21 percent of families spend more than $1,000 out-of-pocket on health care for their child, compared with 28 percent of families in states without such laws.

  • Families in states with parity laws were less likely to report that their child's health care caused financial problems than were families in states without such laws (25% in parity states versus 35% in non-parity states).

  • Family members of children needing mental health care were significantly more likely to cut their work hours to care for a child and to stop working because of a child's health than were parents of children with other special health care needs.

Key Conclusions

  • Findings from this study indicate that parity laws are beneficial to children in need of mental health care. Policies aimed at eliminating the restrictions on mental health care under private insurance policies could be helpful in lowering the financial burden of caring for a mentally ill child.

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