State Mandates for Mental Health Parity: An Effective Tool in Reducing Unmet Need for Mental Health Care?
Over the last decade, government and non-government actors within the U.S. have become increasingly focused on the study and promotion of mental health. This focus is particularly relevant to the 2.6 million children with special health care needs (CSHCN) who needed mental health care in the U.S. in 2006, and the 15% of those children who did not receive all of the mental health care that they needed. States have looked to increase access to such care by mandating that insurance plans cover mental health services as generously as they cover physical health services. However, the impact of these mental health parity laws on unmet need has received little evaluation. Applying logistic regression analysis to the 2005-2006 National Survey of Children with Special Health Care Needs, this study finds that state mandates for mental health parity do not have a significant effect on the likelihood that a child will experience unmet mental health care need. The results indicate that a child's poverty level, caregivers' receipt of help with care coordination, a child's enrollment in special education, and being uninsured all play a role in determining the likelihood of unmet need for CSHCN. This suggests that developing programs surrounding care coordination and special education for CSHCN and increasing insurance coverage among all children may be more effective policies in reducing unmet need for mental health care.
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