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Equal treatment for mental health

Tens of millions of mentally ill and drug-addicted Americans will get expanded access to treatment under regulations unveiled Friday that require insurers to provide equal coverage for behavioral and medical health problems.

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The rule amounts to a formal government finding that treatment for mental illness and substance abuse is as important to a person’s health as medical or surgical care.

It also reflects action on the last of 23 executive measures announced in January as part of the administration’s effort to stem gun violence in the wake of last year’s elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn.

The regulations issued Friday stem from the 2008 Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act. The administration issued interim regulations in 2010, though critics pressed for a permanent rule to cement insurance parity for people suffering from substance abuse and mental problems.

“This is the largest expansion of behavioral health coverage in a generation,” Health and Human Services HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius declared during a speech Friday morning in Atlanta.

The Labor and Treasury departments also worked on drafting the regulations, with officials poring over roughly 5,400 public comments.

Labor Secretary Tom Perez said the final language would end discrimination against the mentally ill and addicted, ensuring that they are no longer the neglected “stepchildren” of the American healthcare system.

Historically, those suffering from the ailments “all too frequently suffered in silence,” Perez told reporters Friday morning.

Nine in 10 Americans with substance abuse disorders and 60 percent of those with a mental health condition don't receive the care the need, administration officials said. 


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