Increased Service Use Among Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder Associated With Mental Health Parity Law
Author: Elizabeth A. Stuart, Emma E. McGinty, Luther Kalb, Haiden A. Huskamp, Susan H. Busch, Teresa B. Gibson, Howard Goldman, Colleen L. Barry
Health care services for children with autism spectrum disorder are often expensive and frequently not covered under private health insurance. The 2008 Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act was viewed as a possible means of improving access by eliminating differences between behavioral health and medical/surgical benefits. We examined whether the legislation was associated with increased use of and spending on mental health care and functional services for children with autism spectrum disorder compared to the period prior to implementation of the law. We used nationwide health insurance commercial group claims data to examine trends in service use and spending among children with autism spectrum disorder before and after implementation of the law. For such children, implementation was associated with increased use of both mental health and non–mental health services. These increases in use were not associated with higher out-of-pocket spending, which suggests that the law improved financial protection for families.