May is Mental Health Awareness Month. And the purpose of this month is to increase the visibility of mental health issues. It also has a goal of reducing the stigma that often surrounds mental illnesses.

For a long time, that stigma influenced employers as well. However, a recent amendment to ERISA changed that.

What is The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act?

The government has added several amendments to the Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) over the years. The 2008 Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA) is only one of the most recent additions.

The MHPAEA expanded insurance coverage for mental illnesses. It provided that employees with mental illnesses should receive the same coverage as those with physical conditions. Now, employees with mental illnesses can obtain coverage for:

  • Out-of-pocket maximums
  • Inpatient and outpatient care
  • Prescriptions and treatments
  • Emergency assistance or care

The MHPAEA increases eligibility for benefits

There is no doubt that employees with mental illnesses should have the same benefits as any other employee with a disability or illness. Mental illnesses always have a range of severity, but they can impact someone’s ability to work as much as any physical condition, including:

  • Depression and anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

And the MHPAEA gives individuals the right to pursue ERISA benefits. However, it is not always so simple to recover those benefits.

Obtaining benefits for a mental illness can still be a challenge

It is difficult to recover benefits for a mental illness, even though the MHPAEA increased employer insurance coverage.

There are two main reasons for this challenge:

  • There are many different symptoms: The same mental illnesses manifest in various ways for different people. One person’s PTSD will look different from another’s. So, many insurers may have trouble verifying the existence of someone’s mental illness.
  • There is still an emphasis on physical illnesses: Recovering benefits solely for a mental illness is still tough. It is much more likely for employers and insurers to cover a mental illness if it accompanies or worsens a physical illness or disability. 

The stigma around mental illness may persist today. However, that should not impact an employee’s right to obtain the ERISA benefits they deserve. Hopefully, this month’s dedication to raising awareness can help reduce the challenges that these employees face.