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.

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