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Mental health parity refers to providing the same level of health benefits for behavioral health issues, such as mental illness and substance abuse, as is offered for other health issues. Until recently, the debate over parity was often described as a sideshow—an argument over a minor point in health insurance. Unfortunately, such perceptions fail to recognize that behavioral health problems permeate the U.S. population at rates far higher than many other serious illnesses: Estimates place the prevalence rates for mental illness between 20 and 30 percent of adults, and about half of the population is underserved. As a result, proponents of parity often view the lack of coverage as a type of discrimination.

Current legislation applies requirements for parity to group health plans having more than ...

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