Mental Health Parity Facts: Why EAP May Save You More Than Ever Before

by Terry Cahill

As most benefits managers know, the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (commonly referred to as the Mental Health Parity Act) takes effect during annual insurance plan renewals that begin after Jan. 1, 2010.  As a result, businesses are struggling with some difficult questions.

Here are some of the questions that businesses are asking Perspectives Ltd, and our thoughts about how employee assistance programs (EAPs) can help manage insurance costs before they stack up:


The Mental Health Parity Act is legislation that prohibits group health and self-insured plans covering more than 50 employees from imposing caps or limitations on mental health treatment or substance use benefits that are not also applied to medical and surgical benefits.

The act refers to all behavioral health which includes mental and nervous conditions and addictions (substance abuse).


Many employers are concerned that their health care costs will skyrocket now that these conditions are covered.  Despite these concerns, the vast majority of employers surveyed plan to continue to offer mental health and substance abuse (MH/SA) services in their benefit plans.


Having a high-touch EAP in place will minimize your risk as an employer.  EAPs cost a fraction of a cent per employee (per year) compared to other benefits – quite literally pennies on the dollar – and can be leveraged to manage the use of mental health benefits in a healthy, responsible way.

Specifically, stand-alone EAPs that are not embedded in health insurance and offer in-person employee needs assessments can provide assistance to people before they access their mental health benefit.  This is done by:

  1. Providing goal-focused problem resolution services through the EAP without the need to use the mental health benefit, thereby saving any cost of treatment;
  2. Directing employees who do need mental health benefits to the right care.  Without an EAP, employees may pursue mental health treatments on their own, engaging the first mental health professional they find – not necessarily one specializing in the care they need because they haven’t been first assessed by a neutral EAP. Cases accessing the mental health benefit without a proper EAP assessment expend time and mental health benefit money on treatment not matched to a client’s need, and;
  3. Using the EAP to provide benefits beyond mental health support such as childcare, eldercare, legal or financial assistance. EAPs work with the employer to resolve a wide range of workplace issues, like employee behavioral challenges, supervisor/manager relations, team issues and interpersonal conflicts; all of which can lead to employee stress and less engagement.


Although the law has passed and will go into effect January 1st, the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and the Treasury have committed to publishing guidance on how to comply with the new law.  Unfortunately, we are still waiting for it, and how much of the guidance will address EAP issues is unknown. 

However, we do know that the Association of Behavioral Health & Wellness (ABH&W), which contributed to the development of the law, has advocated that EAP not be affected – because it sees EAP as a separate service from the healthcare benefit.  Therefore, stand-alone EAPs like Perspectives, which are not embedded in a health benefit plan, are expected to remain unaffected by the Mental Health Parity Act.


In essence, EAP can act as a gatekeeper that manages access to your mental health benefit.  EAP does this by assessing each individual’s needs and resolving them outside of the mental health benefit when appropriate. 

That can add up to significant savings for businesses.


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  • Kathy Greer

    Thank you for your comments about the impact of the Mental Health Parity Law. I agree that high-touch Employee Assistance Programs add tremendous value to employers for a modest cost. EAPs are a great starting point for employees and family members when they are seeking assistance with a mental health referral. So often, an employee just needs a new perspective when thinking through a personal challenge. A strong EAP can provide a myriad of resources for an employee, one of which is a targeted referral to psychotherapy.

    The MH Parity Law seems like a great opportunity for independent EAPs to differentiate themselves from bundled programs because with our short term approach, targeted referrals, work life resources, and lots of personal follow-up.