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Self-Reported Unmet Need for Mental Health Care After California's Parity Legislation (Psychiatric Services)

September 1, 2010

CHIS Journal Article

Authors: Ruopeng An, Roland Sturm

The state's Mental Health Parity Act of 2001 required increased benefits for privately insured Californians. But did it result in parity in terms of perceived need and use of mental health services between privately and publicly insured as intended? Using data from the California Health Interview Survey (CHIS), researchers affiliated with the RAND Corp. tracked changes in use of mental health care services and self-reported unmet need from 2001 to 2005.

The authors found that rather than increased used of mental health services in the four years after passage of the Act, Californians with private insurance used significantly fewer services than previously. Use of mental health services among those with public insurance increased significantly during the period. There was no change for the uninsured.

The analysis revealed a significant increase in perceived need for mental health care services for all insurance groups, resulting in higher unmet need for mental health services for those with private, public or no insurance.

The authors conclude that the parity legislation did not result in increased use of mental health care services among the targeted group with private insurance. Maybe more important, they wrote, parity legislation cannot address the substantial disparities in mental health care utilization by insurance status.

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