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Employee Benefits Security Administration

Fact Sheet: The Mental Health Parity Act

NOTE: This fact sheet address the Mental Health Parity Act of 1996. The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA) requires group health plans and health insurance issuers to ensure that financial requirements (such as co-pays, deductibles) and treatment limitations (such as visit limits) applicable to mental health or substance use disorder (MH/SUD) benefits are no more restrictive than the predominant requirements or limitations applied to substantially all medical/surgical benefits. For more information on MHPAEA, see the fact sheet.

U.S. Department of Labor
Employee Benefits Security Administration
October 2008

The Mental Health Parity Act (MHPA), signed into law on September 26, 1996, requires that annual or lifetime dollar limits on mental health benefits be no lower than any such dollar limits for medical and surgical benefits offered by a group health plan or health insurance issuer offering coverage in connection with a group health plan.

MHPA applies to group health plans for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 1998.  The original sunset provision (providing that the parity requirements would not apply to benefits for services furnished on or after September 30, 2001) has been extended several times. If you have questions about the sunset provision, contact the EBSA office nearest you.

The law:

  • Generally requires parity of mental health benefits with medical/surgical benefits with respect to the application of aggregate lifetime and annual dollar limits under a group health plan

  • Provides that employers retain discretion regarding the extent and scope of mental health benefits offered to workers and their families (including cost sharing, limits on numbers of visits or days of coverage, and requirements relating to medical necessity)

The law, however, does not apply to benefits for substance abuse or chemical dependency.

The law also contains the following two exemptions:

  • Small employer exemption. MHPA does not apply to any group health plan or coverage of any employer who employed an average of between 2 and 50 employees on business days during the preceding calendar year, and who employs at least 2 employees on the first day of the plan year

  • Increased cost exemption. MHPA does not apply to a group health plan or group health insurance coverage if the application of the parity provisions results in an increase in the cost under the plan or coverage of at least one percent