Study: Parity Has No Effect on Treatment Access, But Lowers Costs

Requiring parity for substance abuse disorders in health insurance plans results in identifying more people who need alcohol and drug treatment and lowers plan participants' out-of-pocket costs — but has almost no effect on patients' use of treatment or the quality of care, according to a March 18 press release in Psychiatric News.

In the first such study to look specifically at the impact of parity on substance abuse treatment, researchers at Harvard and at RAND compared the spending and services used between 1999 and 2002 by continuously enrolled participants in six Federal Employees Health Benefit (FEHB) plans with the spending and services used by participants in matched health plans that did not require parity in coverage. (Their review included 2001, the year federal health plans began providing parity in coverage.)

Researchers found no significant difference in the rate at which participants in parity plans accessed substance abuse treatment. Their out-of-pocket spending dropped appreciably — the mean difference in per capita spending between the plans requiring parity and those that did not was $101.09. Total plan spending per participant was not significantly different between parity plans an non-parity plans.

“Our main finding is that, for continuously enrolled populations, providing parity of substance abuse treatment coverage improved insurance protection by reducing out-of-pocket costs of substance abuse treatment for beneficiaries,” said Vanessa Azzone, Ph.D., who led the study.

“Policy makers should be assured that this parity law does what it's supposed to do, lower out-of-pocket expenses for covered individuals, not increase the overall costs,” she added.

The study, “Effect of Insurance Parity on Substance Abuse Treatment,” was published in the February 2011 issue of Psychiatric Services.

    User Picture

    Dan R. Gray

    July 7, 2011 at 5:03 AM

    As I see it, until physicians start the process of brief intervention and treatment followed by referral to a qualified addictions professional, the hidden costs that have been alcohol and/or drug misuse, dependency, or addiction related will still remain hidden. This does not improve the patients health and well-being and in effect, actually does harm. Is this a little slip-up in the “first, do no harm” we all vow to follow?
    There is more than ample education and study materials available in the proper practice of “brief intervention and treatment” and for any physician to deny their patient the opportunity to identify and address a potentially fatal illness could very well result in serious consequences for both.
    At this point in time, the increasing availability of specialty certified addictions professionals uniquely qualified to work in Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) should not pose a problem. Of utmost importance is the physician estalishing an ongoing collaboration and working relationship with and addictions professional that is experienced in science and evidence based treatment. It is also imperative that the treatment be highly individualized and if at all possible, involve significant others, spouses, parents, etc.

    Please don’t just think about it or worry that you might alienate a patient. A well developed model in brief intervention is assertive, positive, and very thoughtful and supportive.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *