(CNN) — In a move aimed at boosting mental health treatment, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Friday announced new rules that will put teeth in a 2008 mental health equity law.
The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, signed by President George W. Bush, requires doctors and insurers to treat mental illness the same as physical illness.
Sebelius made the announcement to applause at the Rosalynn Carter Symposium on Mental Health Policy in Atlanta.
The move “finally puts mental health and behavioral health on equal footing,” Sebelius said.
On paper, the law made mental health more accessible, but there has been virtually no enforcement of it, said Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, president of the American Psychiatric Association and a Columbia University psychiatrist.
“Up to now, the law has not been complied with,” Lieberman said. “Companies have only sort of adhered to it.”
Insurance companies often cover mental illness in a more limited fashion than physical illness.
“Many private insurers gave nothing. Some provided benefits, but they were limited and inadequate,” Lieberman said. The law, the new rules and provisions of Obamacare combined will ensure mental and physical illness would be covered similarly.
For example, insurance companies can no longer authorize a 30-day hospital stay for a stroke and only a two-day stay in the hospital for someone who has had a psychotic break.