Filed Under:Health Insurance, Disability

Disability managers keep focus on mental health

DMEC is meeting in Atlanta this week. (AP photo/Ric Feld)
DMEC is meeting in Atlanta this week. (AP photo/Ric Feld)

The Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC) is using its annual conference in Atlanta to remind the benefits world that the United States is implementing two major health reform programs.

One is the widely covered Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), and the others is the much less publicized Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA).

DMEC, a nonprofit group with about 4,500 disability and absence management community members, worked with Pacific Resources Benefits Advisors L.L.C. to put out a white paper this week on the effects of PPACA on employers' absence and disability programs.

When analysts surveyed 287 benefits professionals through in June and July, they found that 73 percent expect PPACA to increase employers' health benefits costs, and 42 percent expect PPACA to decrease workers' ability to see doctors for routine care in a timely manner.

A smaller but substantial percentage -- 33 percent -- expect PPACA to lead to an increase in the number of short-term disability (STD) claims, and 23 percent fear it could increase the number of long-term disability (LTD) claims.

At the conference, DMEC held general sessions on the PPACA survey results, on general PPACA compliance issues, and on the possible interaction of the new private health insurance exchange programs with absence management and disability programs.

But DMEC also brought Rosalynn Carter, the former first lady, to the conference to talk about the possible effects of the MHPAEA, a law that, in conjunction with the PPACA essential health benefits standards, is supposed to guarantee that holders of individual and small-group health coverage have access to comparable physical health and mental health benefits.

The MHPAEA already calls for any employee at an employer that offers both medical benefits and mental health benefits to get access to similar medical and mental health benefits.

DMEC also presented a general session on mental health care management and a session on strategies for keeping mental health problems from causing or lengthening disability claims.

"The high percentage of employees stricken with mental illnesses is more than a health issue," the group says. "It is also an economic and productivity issue of key strategic importance."

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