The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA), which amended the Public Health Service Act, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and the Internal Revenue Code, generally is effective for plan years beginning on or after October 3, 2009. For calendar year plans, the effective date is January 1, 2010. The Departments of Labor (DOL), Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Treasury have published an interim final rule implementing the provisions of MHPAEA. The regulation is effective on April 5, 2010, and applicable to plan years beginning on or after July 1, 2010.

Also available is a DOL Fact Sheet that explains the anticipated changes and impact of the provisions in the interim final rule. It is not anticipated that this "interim" final rule will be changed between now and the July 1, 2010 final effective date.

If you are familiar with the Mental Health Parity Act of 1996 (MHPA), you are probably aware of the requirements that there be parity with respect to aggregate lifetime and annual dollar limits for mental health treatment and other major medical benefits. Since MHPA did not apply to substance use disorder benefits, MHPAEA was enacted to continue the MHPA parity rules as to limits for mental health benefits, and amended them to extend to substance use disorder benefits. Therefore, plans and issuers that offer substance use disorder benefits subject to aggregate lifetime and annual dollar limits must comply with the MHPAEA’s parity provisions.

We expect more guidance to be issued, but for plan sponsors that are concerned about compliance with the new act, start with the assumption that treatment for addiction gets the same protection as treatment for other mental illness claims. As more guidance is issued, we will post that information.