NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 29, 2008

Psychiatric groups have tried for years to force insurance companies to cover the treatment of mental illness and addiction. The parity amendment in the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 requires that mental health and substance use disorder benefits be "no more restrictive than the predominant financial requirements applied to substantially all medical and surgical benefits covered" by an insurance group health plan or coverage (if said plan covers mental illness).

Unless reversed - or at least modified to apply only to severe disorders - the legislation is likely to open up a Pandora's box for the American health care system, say Richard E. Vatz, a professor at Towson University, and associate psychology editor of USA Today Magazine, and Jeffrey A. Schaler, a psychologist, and professor of justice, law and society at American University and executive editor of Current Psychology.

Among the problems with the parity argument:

  • The American Psychiatric Association claims that more than 50 percent of Americans are now or will at some point be mentally ill -- although there is no way to accurately confirm or disconfirm "mental illness."
  • Supporters of parity celebrate the new law as signaling the end of "stigma," but they fail to consider that stigmatization is a marvelous negative reinforcer for undesired behavior, some of which is called "mental illness."
  • Substance abuse disorders are arguably a function of behavioral choices and are best explained by mindset, personal values and how coping skills, unlike bodily illness; one can no more will away cancer, heart disease or diabetes than he or she can will their onset.
  • Severe conditions such as schizophrenia have been used to typify "mental illness," when it in fact constitutes no more than 1.5 percent of those labeled "mentally ill."

A more prototypical mental illness, "adjustment disorder," is a name given by psychiatrists to people who have problems in living. The same could be said for "impulse-control disorders" such as gambling too much (called "pathological gambling") and other supposed mental disorders.

Even worse is the fact that such a contentious, scientifically questionable and potentially expensive piece of legislation was passed through the back door.

Source:  Richard E. Vatz and Jeffrey A. Schaler, 'Parity' through back door," Baltimore Sun, October 23, 2008.

For text:,0,6818325.story

For NCPA analysis of parity proposals see;;



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